Title: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats
Author: Jan-Philipp Sendker
Release Date: January 31, 2012
Publisher: Other Press
Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5
It’s been four years since Julia Win’s father disappeared without a trace, and only now has she found some clue about his disappearance: a love letter to him from a woman named Mi Mi. Confused about who this woman was and forlorn at the thought that her father might have had a secret life, Julia travels to Burma to try and find her father and understand the things about his past he might have hidden from her.
The premise of The Art of Hearing Heartbeats seems simple: a father’s disappearance and a daughter’s search for him. When you begin reading the first pages of this novel, there aren’t many clues about just how complex of a novel it will become. For this isn’t Julia’s story at all, but the story of a boy named Tin Win and a girl named Mi Mi. As Julia hears Tin Win’s story, she can’t reconcile what she knows about her father with what she hears of this strange boy, but she listens to the story with an open mind and heart.
Jan-Philipp Sendker brings Burma to life for the reader. He presents both rural and urban Burma with such vividness and detail. The culture and landscape are incredibly well described, and readers will enjoy this glimpse into a foreign culture. The writing can be difficult to wade through at times, but it’s hard to say if that’s Sendker’s issue or that of the translation (the novel was originally written in German).
The plot of The Art of Hearing Heartbeats relies on mystical elements that the reader must accept in order to enjoy the story. After all, the central premise of the novel is the idea of two star-crossed lovers, separated by distance and their own lives, overcoming all because of their true love. This is basically a fairy tale, and it strays into cheesiness a little too often. The ending is predictable and those mystical elements just don’t sell themselves well enough to the reader, resulting in a sticky-sweet, unbelievable story.
If you’re in the mood for something absolutely sweet, something to restore your faith in love, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is a good choice. However, it’s definitely not a book for everyone. I found too many issues with the storyline for it to be really enjoyable, especially since I was expecting something else entirely based on the premise. As long as you go into it clear eyed, though, and you want to read the type of story you’ll be receiving, you will likely enjoy this novel.