Featured bedtime read: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats

By Jan-Philipp Sendker, 2013

4.5 out of 5

A poignant and inspirational love story set in Burma, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats spans the decades between the 1950s and the present.

When a successful New York lawyer suddenly disappears without a trace, neither his wife nor his daughter Julia has any idea where he might be — until they find a love letter he wrote many years ago, to a Burmese woman they have never heard of.

Intent on solving the mystery and coming to terms with her father's past, Julia decides to travel to the village where the woman lived. There she uncovers a tale of unimaginable hardship, resilience, and passion that will change her life once more.

Part One
Chapter One

THE OLD MAN's eyes struck me first. They rested deep in their sockets, and he seemed unable to take them off me. Granted, everyone in the teahouse was staring at me more or less unabashedly, but he was the most brazen. As if I were some exotic creature he'd never seen before.

Trying to ignore him, I glanced around the teahouse, a mere wooden shack with a few tables and chairs standing right on the dry, dusty earth. Against the far wall a glass display case exhibited pastries and rice cakes on which dozens of flies had settled.

There are not many writers like Jan-Philipp Sendker, who can carry the message of pure love on words that sprout wings. Needless to say The Art of Hearing Heartbeats has been a roaring success across Europe. This is an epic love story.

Julia Win has left her high-flying Manhattan lifestyle behind. We meet her adjusting to the impoverished surroundings of Burma, her quest more meaningful then the average backpacker. She's here to find her missing father, Tin Win, and Uba is determined to help her. But who is Uba exactly, and why is this humble Burmese man so passionately convinced of the transformative power of true love — a love that breathes meaning into life?

Cue the extraordinary story of Tin Win, a cursed baby, an abandoned boy, and a blind adolescent. Is this really the same person who breaks out of his own isolation to confront and then forsake a love that knows no bounds? Blind Tin Win, disabled Mimi — how can it be that they are so much more than the sum of their parts? He her ears and legs, she his eyes. Together they turn towards life.

Oh, that The Art of Hearing Heartbeats was available to us all in this mad, clatter-bang modern world. Jan-Phillip's writing is imbued with the spirit and simplicity of rural Burma. His emotional portraits are fearless in their honesty. We learn with Julia and Tin Win that in every life, without exception, illnesses are unavoidable, that we will age, and that we cannot elude death.

There's loneliness too: it is a stronghold where isolation imprisons its captive. Even the power of sight isn't all its cracked up to be — rather, if misused, it can provide a distraction, waiting to be dazzled. It was Tin Win who woke up one day, lost in a milky white fog, unable to see. It's together with him that we enter an exotic, sensory world of sound, tone and movement. Thanks to Mimi's descriptions, he learns to connect sounds with objects, plants and animals. He discovers that the wind beats of a swallow-tailed butterfly sounded brighter then those of a monarch. That the leaves of a mulberry tree rustled differently in the wind than those of a guava. It was a whole new alphabet.

And thus it is, through the art of hearing heartbeats, that we too are encouraged to stop, breathe, listen, love. For beyond the callow obstacles of existence, this book points to something so much deeper — to a life that is, and I quote, 'a gift full of riddles', where suffering and happiness are inextricably intertwined. Okay, so any attempt to have one without the other is simply bound to fail, but surely we would all take the risk to embrace life? After all, in the end it is love that defies the laws of natural deterioration. For in The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, it is love that is stronger than fear.

Listen to Tessa's review

More reviews

  • Magical.- The Huffington Post
  • Imbued with Eastern spirituality and fairy-tale romanticism.- Kirkus Reviews
  • An epic narrative that requires a large box of tissues.- Publishers Weekly
  • Read user reviews on Amazon

More about the author

Jan-Philipp Sendker

Jan-Philipp Sendker was born in Hamburg in 1960. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is his first novel. He lives in Berlin with his family.

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