HEARTS AND MINDS by Amanda Craig

This is an uncomfortable read – compelling and  definitely enjoyable, but uncomfortable too. It’s the story of London’s immigrant population told through the experiences of Job, a teacher who has fled Zimbabwe and is now driving taxis and cleaning cars; of American Katie, who is trying to piece her life and heart back together working for a magazine that has thrust her right into the eye of class politics; of Ian, a white South African struggling with England’s weather, as well as the discovery that the violence and racial division of his homeland is alive and kicking at the North London state school where he teaches;  and of Anna, a teenager trafficked from Ukraine, who is beaten, raped and forced into prostitution. And then there is Polly Noble, single mother and human rights lawyer, whose au pair’s body is found in the lake on Hampstead Heath, sending her carefully balanced existence into a spin and bringing her face to face with her conscience. Each individual story is utterly gripping, the characters are believable and the threads that bind them together are never contrived. But the book’s real power lies in its commentary on modern London. In fact, more than anything, this is a book about our capital city, particularly the underworld that has always provided such riches for writers willing to go there. What they find  and shine a light on can provide a new perspective on our own actions, attitudes and degrees of responsibility. I know I could all too easily be guilty of some of Polly’s behaviour – the self-justification and the self-righteousness – so whilst this book did make me uncomfortable, it is very much worth reading as a reminder that how we reach out to others, with our hearts as well as our minds, is what matters the most.

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