Author: Amanda Craig, 2009.
Genre: Contemporary. Current Events. Mystery.
Other Details: Paperback. 422 pages.
Hearts and Minds opens with the dumping of a murdered woman's body in an isolated pond on Hampstead Heath. The thread of this mystery runs through Amanda Craig's vivid portrait of present day London and the lives of a diverse group of characters, some British and others who have come to live here from abroad, either legally or illegally. It is very much an ensemble piece and each short chapter revolves around the experiences of one of five main characters in a merry-go-round style.
The main five characters are as follows: Polly is a human rights lawyer, a divorced mother of two, who turns a blind eye to the legal status of her Russian nanny. Job, a former school teacher from Zimbabwe who fled from persecution, is living in the UK illegally. He scrapes a living by driving a taxi. Anna is a 15-year old girl from the Ukrainian, who finds herself forced into sexual slavery. Ian is a white South African seeking to gain his teaching certificate by working in a sink school in Inner London. Finally, there is Katie, a young American working for The Rambler, a long established conservative magazine. These lives soon begin to intersect in various ways.
Aside from these individual stories, the novel looks at the great swirling mass of humanity that makes up London. Though referring to contemporary events such as 9/11 and 7/7 there is a sense that London has from its beginning has always been home to a diversity of cultural influences. The novel was very reminiscent of Charles Dickens' works, both in its interweaving of lives and its acute social awareness. Craig tackles the controversial subject of illegal immigration and asylum seekers with insight and sensitivity.
Having lived in London for a number of years I was impressed with her ability to bring the city with its lights and shadows alive. A superb, highly readable and topical novel.
Amanda Craig's Page on 'Hearts and Minds'.