Rich or poor, five people, seemingly very different, find their lives in the capital connected in undreamed-of ways. There is Job, the illegal mini-cab driver whose wife in Zimbabwe no longer answers his letters; Ian, the idealistic supply teacher in exile from South Africa; Katie from New York, jilted and miserable as a dogsbody at a political magazine, and fifteen-year-old Anna, trafficked into sexual slavery. Polly Noble, an overworked human rights lawyer, knows better than most how easy it is to fall through the cracks into the abyss. Yet when her au pair, Iryna, disappears, Polly’s own needs and beliefs drag her family into a world of danger, deceit and terror.
Riveting, humane, engaging, HEARTS AND MINDS is a novel that is both entertaining and prepared to ask the most serious questions about the way we live. – Goodreads
The book starts with a murder. More specifically, the disposal of a body. But the murder itself isn’t immediately the point of the book. The death is but one strand of the many story lines that cross and intersect, creating a complex web that ensnares each character in turn. It’s not a thriller, nor is it a whodunnit. This is a book about the inner lives of its characters – all of whom will be touched by this event in one way or another.
This book centres around five very different characters living in London – though most aren’t from the UK at all. Each of these characters is somehow drawn into the world of illegal immigration, either because they are one of the many who have sought a better future in England, or they have come to know and care about one.
Another common theme is helplessness. Each character is trapped by their context. Either they are physically restrained, a prisoner of circumstance, or facing economic hardship that narrows their options to one (less than ideal) viable path. Each similarly faces the threat or reality of physical violence, which every character handles differently.
In a strange way, dealing with the restrictions placed on them leads the characters to revelations that will help them decide where their life needs to go next – and in some cases, will set them free.
Though the book certainly deals with some dark (and frankly, disturbing) topics and situations, by the end of the book we discover that the characters we’ve grown to know and care about aren’t as alone as they once seemed. They will lean on one another, and help where they least expect it – from complete strangers. And in helping one another, our characters invariably discover that they’re also helping themselves find whatever closure or strength they will need to let go of the past and move, however tentatively, towards a new future.
This book will appeal to you if you enjoy powerful character portraits driven by morally ambiguous circumstance with a hint of suspense and intrigue. I went into this expecting an emotional gut punch (which it certainly delivered) but what I hadn’t anticipated was the action-packed twists thrown into the plot that made it nearly impossible to put down.
Here you will find underdogs to root for, villains to despise, and hope where you least expect it. It’s a vibrant and stark portrait of the conflicted and dangerous world we currently live in, and is as much a sociological critique of the relative value we place on lives as it is an exciting story. There’s something here for the serious reader as well as those simply looking to be entertained.
Author: Amanda Craig
Series: No (though some of her other books feature cross-over characters)
Published By: Abacus
Released: February 4, 2010
Genre: Fiction, Drama, Social Commentary, Suspense
Date Read: August 30-September 8, 2014