Maybe it’s the space of life in which I find myself. Maybe it’s the setting in which I read The Art of Hearing Heartbeats. Or, maybe I’m a sap for an interesting love story. But, unlike quite a few negative reviews I read of Jan-Philipp Sendker’s novel, I found it to be enchanting and well-written.
We open with our protagonist’s (Julia) meeting of an old sage, U Ba, in a dingy cafe in Kalaw, Burma. Travel weary and New York City snobby mixed with a little girl’s crushed spirit, Julia’s on a messy mission to find her father.
He disappeared from her childhood home four years earlier. He’s been unknown to her since that day. What she learned about him between his disappearance and her trip to Burma suggests she may never have known her father at all.
As readers, U Ba and our protagonist take us on a journey of transformation as Julia learns her father’s childhood story through U Ba and, in digesting his truth, she slowly lets go of her tightly woven life. Throughout U Ba’s rhythmic tale of her father’s (Tin Win) and his soul mate’s (Mi Mi) love story, I also found myself letting go of my own tightly woven life.
There’s something in the unfolding of a love story… one that shows both parties needing each other to be whole, while also living so much of life independent of each other, that felt both tragic and encouraging.
I’m not one to reveal much of a book’s story in a blog post. We’ll do much more discussing when we launch our online book club. But, I can easily say The Art of Hearing Heartbeats awakened a desire to move more slowly in my life and to realize the most precious relationships take time to develop.
Precious relationships also take a level of vulnerability and trust many aren’t willing to share. Tin Win was blind when he met Mi Mi. He needed her eyes. Mi Mi could not walk. She needed his legs. The two literally became one and this oneness exponentially increased their joy for life.
But, the exponential joy was possible only because
they allowed the other to be flawed without being weak.
As we listen to the story of Julia’s father first true love, we feels ourselves recoiling and then letting go along with Julia. At least I did…
I saw myself in Julia. My need to know as much about “why” things work like they do as knowing “how” they work drives me to almost madness. My innate desire for love, without the full understanding of love, can cripple my ability to give. It’s so easy to become tightly wound into our own lives when we must know, and be in control of, the details.
Yet, if we want exponential joy in life, we have to allow people to be people, time to be time, and life to be life. None can be controlled. All have flaws. And all have the capacity to enrich and enliven if we allow them to just be.
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is rich with characters with whom we can all relate. It’s main flaw is a rather predictable ending, but maybe the predictability was necessary.
For me, I needed to close the book knowing Julia would be okay. Because there are days when I close the book on that day’s events and want to know I’ll be okay too.