“I lost count of how many times I was caught off-guard by the poignancy of this novel . . . This story of motherhood and friendship, anchored by two extraordinary heroines, will stay with me for a long time.”—Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner
"A love song to music itself." - The Globe and Mail
Fatherless Katherine carries the stigma of her mixed-race background through an era that is hostile to her and all she represents. It is only through music that she finds the freedom to temporarily escape and dream of a better life for herself, nurturing this hard-won refuge throughout the vagaries of unexpected motherhood and an absent husband, and relying on her talent to build a future for her family.
Orphaned Mahsa also grows up in the shadow of loss, sent to relatives in Pakistan after the death of her parents. Struggling to break free, she escapes to Montreal, leaving behind her first love, Kamal. But the threads of her past are not so easily severed, and she finds herself forced into an arranged marriage. For Mahsa, too, music becomes her solace and allows her to escape from her oppressive circumstances.
When Katherine and Mahsa meet, they find in each other a kindred spirit as well as a musical equal, and their lives are changed irrevocably. Together, they inspire and support one another, fusing together their cultures, their joys, and their losses—just as they collaborate musically in the language of free-form, improvisational jazz.
Under the Visible Life takes readers from the bustling harbour of Karachi to the palpable political tension on the streets of 1970s Montreal to the smoky jazz clubs of New York City. Deeply affecting, vividly rendered, and sweeping in scope, it is also an exploration of the hearts of two unforgettable women: a meditation on how hope can remain alive in the darkest of times when we have someone with whom to share our burdens.
About the author
A nationalist and lifelong journalist, Barbara Moon was the author of hundreds of major articles in magazines such as Maclean's and Saturday Night and features in newspapers such as the Globe and Mail. She wrote dozens of television documentaries, among them several segments of the experimental CBC-TV Images of Canada series, and books, including The Natural History of the Canadian Shield. From 1992 to 1998, she was a senior editor for the Creative Non-fiction and Cultural Journalism Program (now called the Literary Journalism Program) at The Banff Centre. Among relevant honours, Moon held a Maclean-Hunter first prize for Editorial Achievement, the University of Western Ontario's President's Medal, and the National Magazine Foundation's Award for Outstanding Achievement. Barbara Moon died in April 2009 near her home in Picton, Ontario, after a brief illness. Kim Echlin is the author of Elephant Winter, nominated for the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award and won the TORGI Talking Book of the Year Award. Her latest novel is The Disappeared. After completing a doctoral thesis on Ojibway story-telling, she travelled in search of stories through the Marshall Islands, China, France, and Zimbabwe. On her return to Canada she became an arts documentary producer with CBC's The Journal, and a writer for various publications. Don Obe is a professor emeritus of magazine journalism, a former chair of the school and founder of the Ryerson Review of Journalism. His professional experience includes editor-in-chief of The Canadian magazine and Toronto Life, and associate editor of Maclean's. From 1989 to 1999 he was senior resident editor in and, at times, the director of the Creative Nonfiction and Cultural Journalism Program (now called the Literary Journalism Program) at the Banff Centre. He won a gold medal in the National Magazine Awards for ethical writing and, in l993, his industry's highest honour, the National Magazine Award for Outstanding Achievement. He retired in 2001.
- Nominated, OLA Evergreen Award
“Jazz is blood, bone and spirit in Kim Echlin's wonderful novel. Under the Visible Life is as heady and unexpected as a Coltrane riff, as lush as life itself.” —Esi Edugyan, author of Half-Blood Blues
“Engrossing . . . the novel carries readers through an impressive cavalcade of personal and societal changes. Echlin is that rare writer who can evoke the joy of playing and listening to music without resorting to overly abstract language or fussy metaphors.” —Toronto Star
“Echlin's musical novel hits the right notes . . . Echlin is a wonderful storyteller, and has created two strong characters who have to battle far too many obstacles trying to live fulfilling lives.” —Winnipeg Free Press
“Her prose is always arresting: plain and vigorous, laconic and sensual, a language of resistance, dreaming of female freedom.” —The Independent
“Echlin . . . delivers a clinic on how to conjure emotions readers didn't even know they had. Not since The Diviners has a Canadian novel explored the complex, messy, and sacrificial nature of creative self-actualization with such skill . . . Readers will revel in every charged scene, every breathtaking reversal, every hard-earned moment of wisdom that this devastating novel delivers . . . This book is nothing short of a masterpiece.” —Quill & Quire (starred review)
“[Echlin's] talent is on full display in this lyrical, exciting story . . . Echlin's excellent novel introduces two complex women who sometimes succeed and sometimes suffer, and whose stories are moving from start to finish.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“The sweaty clubs are vividly evoked, the music almost rising off the page. Rather than a study of stardom, the novel turns a spotlight on the jobbing players, the ranks of professional musicians who gamely keep on swinging but who never get the big breaks. It’s all the more effective – and poignant – for that.” —The Guardian
Other titles by Kim Echlin
A Fuge Essay on Women and Creativity
Mary of Canada
Virgin Mary in Canadian Culture, Spirituality, History and Geography
To Arrive Where You Are
Literary Journalism from The Banff Centre for the Arts