October 10, 2013

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats


Jan-Phillipp Sendker's The Art of Hearing Heartbeats was a wonderful read.   The author (and the translator--this book was originally written in German) paid careful attention to all of the lyrical language in this novel, which at times reads almost like poetry.

Also--and this says much more about me than it does about the book, I'd imagine--I was astonished when I realized that the author was male.

Julia, an adult woman whose father vanished mysteriously several years ago, travels to Burma after finding a letter he'd written to a Burmese woman.  (Incidentally, a letter he'd never sent but nonetheless raised questions about his background and where he may have so suddenly disappeared to.)

Once she arrives, she meets a man who recounts the story of her father--Tin Win--from the time he was born until the time he left his native land.  It's a hauntingly sad story in some ways and a wonderfully joyful one in others.  There's abandonment and there's blindness and there's learning and there's love.

In the end, there's also reconciliation.  Julia comes to understand the man she knew as father as well as the man he was before he became her father, and in the process also has some small realizations about her mother (who only has a brief and bitter appearance in the novel to tell her daughter that she doesn't want to know anything that's discovered about her father).

It was an engrossing but calming read, one I found myself easily falling into.  I was sad to see it end for more reasons than one.

You may want to read this one with a tissue.

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