Customer Review

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where True Freedom is Found, 7 May 2009
This review is from: Hearts And Minds (Hardcover)
Hearts and Minds is a novel about London today. It portrays the lives of several different characters, many of whom have recently or newly moved to the United Kingdom from such diverse locations as the Ukraine, South Africa, Zimbabwe and America. Craig is a magnanimous author portraying her characters' personal struggles with a balanced sense of compassion. From a single working mother's guilt over dividing herself between her job and children to a lonely hard-working man's intense desire to satiate his emotional and sexual needs, each of the central characters' concerns are treated with respect and feel entirely true. The author has a particular talent for summing up psychological complexities in pithy descriptions. For instance, when describing a wayward editorial assistant named Katie the author writes, "She isn't anorexic, as her parents fear, she just can't remember what wanting anything ever again feels like." Each chapter leans heavily towards one of the main characters' perspectives. At first, being immersed in several very different individuals' viewpoints is disorientating as the reader struggles to connect the characters to each other and make distinctions between the large cast of characters. But soon, as the story gains momentum, the broad canvas which Craig creates becomes a complete picture which is so compelling it's difficult to put the book down.

At the centre of the book is a mysterious murder. The novel begins with the body of an immigrant woman being dumped in a Hampstead Heath pond. Only gradually over the course of the novel and through discoveries made by the central characters do we understand who she is and why she was murdered. Through the different perspectives of the characters, the reader accumulates a multi-sided portrait of the city. To some it's filled with opportunity, beauty, kindness and affluence; to others it's a metropolis of danger, isolation, poverty and treachery. A central debate in the book is over the contentious question of immigration and the book doesn't shy from making some strong, highly striking statements about the immigrant experience. It's commendable that the author can bravely engage with and open debate about the issue by realistically depicting facets of immigrant life which many inhabitants of London never see. There are scenes of racial abuse, human-trafficking, underage prostitution, gang-warfare and Islamic terrorism. However, readers shouldn't be frightened off by the serious subject matter as this novel is also punctuated with moments of humour such as when a poet is chased by an editor out of a newspaper publisher as if he were vermin. Equally, there are moments of quiet beauty as when Katie attends a piano recital leading her to understand, "It is worth being alive." Though London is given a severe sobering critique in this richly layered novel, it is shown to possess rare potential and unique charms which you'd be unable to find elsewhere. And there is even room for hope. Shining through the novel is the importance of the interconnectedness of individuals in a city whose population values isolation.
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