The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Maturity Level: 5
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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 reaffirm the reader’s belief in the power of love to move mountains.
Julia Win travels to Burma hoping to discover what became of her father after he disappeared four years earlier. She meets a man named U Ba who tells her the story of her father’s life. It is a sweeping love story that will make you laugh and weep. At least, that’s what the author tells us. Can I just say how much I hate when an author refers to a story/poem/song in their own book this way? It seems pretty self-assured and assuming to me. What we got instead was a completely unbelievable story full of characters that I didn’t emotionally connect to. I suspect my inability to connect with the story starts with my inability to connect to Julia. She is an unlikable woman who appears to have no feelings, and I was completely uninvested in her sudden desire to know what happened to her father when she had spent years not caring. Her preference for New York City’s noise and grit over the clean, simplicity of the Burmese countryside was unforgivable. How can you care about a character who doesn’t notice beauty when she travels the world? However, the characters in U Ba’s story aren’t the kind of characters I particularly care about either. In the sort of sweeping love story about how love conquers all we have been informed we are about to hear, the character’s don’t even have the courage to stand up for their love when they are separated. No thanks.
However there is no denying that The Art of Hearing Heartbeats was a relatively well-written book, if a little more Nicholas Sparks in style than I would have preferred. It moved quickly, the dialogue was good when it was there at all (bonus points to avoiding dialogue as much as possible in a country that must speak in a completely different way from us) and the descriptions of Burma were beautiful, allowing me to see it in my mind’s eye even though I couldn’t point to Burma on a map. I would definitely recommend this book to people who enjoy soft fiction of the romantic variety.