Friday, August 9, 2013

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats

Title:  The Art of Hearing Heartbeats
Author:  Jan-Philipp Sendker
Publication Information:  Karl Blessing Verlag, Verlagsgruppe Random House GmbH, Munich, Germany. 2002. 338 pages.

Book Source:  I read this book based on a recommendation from a friend.

Favorite Quote:  "Love has so many different faces that our imagination is not prepared to see them all ... Because we see only what we already know. We project our own capacities - for good as well as evil - onto the other person. Then we acknowledge as love primarily those things that correspond to our own image thereof. We wish to be loved as we ourselves would love. Any other way makes us uncomfortable. We respond with doubt and suspicion. We misinterpret the signal. We do not understand the language. We accuse. We assert that the other person does not love us. But perhaps he merely loves us in some idiosyncratic way that we fail to recognize."

The original novel was published in German and became successful in Europe. This is the English translation.

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is as story within a story. It is the story of a daughter attempting to understand her father and the life of the man before he became a father. The story travels from New York to Burma.

Julia's father is a well respected lawyer in New York, but one day, he simply disappears, leaving his daughter devastated. The only clue she finds is a love letter written by her father to a woman named Mi Mi in Burma. So, she travels to Burma to solve the mystery and find some closure.

In a small Burmese village, she meets U Ba, a gentlemen who knows her father and who has his story to tell. Thus, the book moves into the story of Tin Win and Mi Mi. Tin Win is the young boy who suffers through many calamities while young. Yet, he finds love and flourishes. Mi Mi is a young woman handicapped by a physical disability but embracing life with joy.

What brings them together and tears them apart and the concept of unconditional love is what this story is all about. What Julia learns about her father, herself, and her world is what brings the story back to the present.

The story of Tin Win and Mi Mi often reads like a fairy tale or a fable. Certain details are not developed and certain questions are not resolved. For example, how is Julia's father able to walk away from his daughter? Why do Tin Win and Mi Mi accept what happens without question? Why does so much time pass with Tin Win not returning? Many questions; yet, the writing and the way in which the story is told surpasses those questions.

My reaction to the book can perhaps be best described in the author's own words. As the book is a story within a story, the author talks about the impact of stories: "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?" If you are willing to suspend your disbelief about the unresolved questions, this story does.


  1. I loved this book. I really couldn't put into words why. It was sad, heartbreaking. But I loved it. Great review.

    1. I completely agree. It took me a while to write this review because liking this book was not about the logic of the book. Logically, the book left questions unanswered. But, emotionally, the book spoke to me.