It is with great joy that I bring you my review of The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan Philipp Sendker. This is a story set in New York and in Burma, a country most Westerners know little about. The truth is though that it doesn’t matter where it’s set to some extent because it’s a universal story of hope, trust and unconditional love.
Below is a video clip of the author talking about writing the novel. Interspersed within the video are photos of Burma, which will help to set the scene for you.
One day a successful Wall Street attorney just disappeared. It was almost as if he had been lifted off of the planet. Although his wife, Judith, became resigned to the fact that he was gone for good, and quite probably dead, his daughter, Julia, could not let him go.
“My father stood by my bed and whispered my name. He said he had an appointment in Boston and didn’t know exactly when he would be back. Probably not for a couple of days,…He kissed me on the forehead and said, ‘I love you, little one. Never forget that, you hear?’
I nodded groggily, ‘I love you, too.’…I haven’t seen him since.”
A lawyer herself, Julia has inherited his strong will and is determined to find him. She can’t believe her father, who has always loved her gently and unconditionally, would voluntarily leave his family without a word. It’s so unlike the man she has known all of her life.
The detectives they hired were only able to trace him as far as Thailand before the trail went cold. Then one day four years later, her mother sends her a box of papers belonging to her dad. Among all of the professional and personal memorabilia is an unopened letter.
“Then at the very back, a thin blue airmail envelope, folded neatly into a small rectangle. I took it out and unfolded it. It was addressed to:
38 Circular Road
Kalaw, San State
And so begins Julia’s real journey to find her father, no matter how long it takes and no matter where it may lead. The trail from the letter first leads to Kalaw, a village in Burma, where she meets U Ba, a village wise man, in a tea house. All her life, Julia has thought she knew her mysterious father as much as anyone did but the story she will be told of his life in Burma is a difficult one to believe.
“’I had never heard anyone tell a story like that. Can words sprout wings? Can they glide like butterflies through the air? Can they captivate us, carry us off into another world? Can they open the last secret chambers of our souls?’” U Ba speaking of Tin Win telling his story.
Normally in my reviews, I would now tell you at least some of the story of Tin Win and Mi Mi while trying to avoid providing spoilers. I started writing their story this time but after a few paragraphs I realized that anything I told you would provide spoilers. Agh! After several rewrite attempts, I gave up. What am I going to do? Anything I write about Tin Win’s life growing up in Burma or about these incredible young people will keep you from having the experience you need to have while reading this amazing novel. Yet I want you to know how phenomenal The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is! *gnashes teeth in frustration*
Okay, here’s my compromise – There are two interwoven stories in The Art of Hearing Heartbeats: 1), a daughter’s love for her father which is so strong that she must solve the mystery of what happened to him and learn more about his history; and 2), a story of two young people whose disabilities become their strengths and who complete each other in a way that is rare and beautiful. It’s the story of unconditional love and trust that is so profound and so deep that it can span continents and decades despite complete and total separation. It’s a story of love and loss, of mysticism and superstition, of soul mates in the best sense of the term. It’s a universal story you won’t be able to stop reading, one that will touch your heart and mind and soul.
“’I [U Ba] speak of a love that brings sight to the blind. Of a love stronger than fear. I speak of a love that breathes meaning into life, that defies the natural laws of deterioration, that causes us to flourish, that knows no bounds. I speak of the triumph of the human spirit over selfishness and death.’”
Rarely has a novel touched me the way this one has. I will cherish The Art of Hearing Heartbeats for many years to come and I believe you will too. I can’t recommend it highly enough!
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats will be released on January 31, 2012, but it should be available for pre-order from your favorite bookseller below. Just click the button to go there to get it.
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