Synopses & Reviews
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.
"This tearful, circuitous German bestseller traces the lost romance between a blind young monk and a poor crippled girl in pre-WWII Burma. Sendker employs an elaborate secondhand flashback device to send Julia, an American lawyer, to Burma on a hunch that she might find clues to the whereabouts of her Burmese father, Tin Win, a prominent New York celebrity lawyer who was blind as a child and vanished four years ago, apparently of his own volition. Julia, born to Win and his American wife in 1968, is a New Yorker used to metropolitan conveniences. She arrives in the village of Kalaw by virtue of a beautiful 1955 love letter from her father to a woman named Mi Mi and immediately bristles at the pace and privation of village life. A stranger named U Ba soon helps Julia unravel the mystery of her father, from his astrologically inauspicious birth and abandonment by a superstitious mother to his ensuing blindness and delivery to Buddhist monks who teach him to use his other senses keenly. When Tin Win meets Mi Mi, a kind, crippled creature, she acts as his eyes as he carries her upon his back. Their love remains unbroken through 50 years of incredible vicissitudes. An epic narrative that requires enormous sentimental indulgence and a large box of tissues." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“[The Art of Hearing Heartbeats] is a love story set in Burma…imbued with Eastern spirituality and fairy-tale romanticism….Fans of Nicholas Sparks and/or Elizabeth Gilbert should eat this up.” Kirkus Reviews
“Sweetly tragic.” Library Journal
“No matter what I even attempt to say, I can’t possibly capture the absolute magic of this book. Like a spell, it haunts. Like love, it’s going to endure.” Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You
“A story at once both poignant and joyous, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats reaffirms how love can transform the harshest of realities into a mystical one. Sendker takes us from contemporary, upscale New York to impoverished Burma, weaving a complex tale that is part romance, part father-daughter story. Reading this book was like reading poetry, with full attention required for each sentence. A thoroughly immersive and enjoyable read.” Margaret Dilloway, author of How to Be an American Housewife
“Set in Burma, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is a rare novel. Telling the story of a young blind man’s journey through a world of auditory intensity, Jan-Philipp Sendker renews one’s faith in the possibility of real, pure love. I finished the book in tears.” Shawna Yang Ryan, author of Water Ghosts
About the Author
Jan-Philipp Sendker, born in Hamburg in 1960, was the American correspondent for Stern
from 1990 to 1995, and its Asian correspondent from 1995 to 1999. In 2000 he published Cracks in the Great Wall,
a nonfiction book about China. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats
is his first novel. He lives in Berlin with his family.
Kevin Wiliarty has a BA in German from Harvard and a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. A native of the United States, he has also lived in Germany and Japan. He is currently an academic technologist at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife and two children.
Reading Group Guide
1. In your opinion, what does the back-and-forth between Julia’s and U Ba’s narratives add to the telling of the love story between Tin Win and Mi Mi? How do these stories interrelate?
2. Tin Win is born to parents who abandon him as a child but Mi Mi is born into a close-knit family. Mi Mi’s mother, especially, adores her daughter. Do you see this developmental difference reflected in the adult each one becomes, or in the way the two relate to one another?
3. After he loses his sight, Tin Win spends several years in a monastery under the tutelage of the abbot, U May. In your opinion, what does U May model for Tin Win? How does Tin Win grow in these years?
4. Tin Win’s wealthy uncle, U Saw, finances Tin Win’s eye operation and subsequent education abroad. But to U Saw’s discredit, his motives are self-interested, and for his own convenience, he obstructs all communication between Tin Win and Mi Mi. Is U Saw portrayed as a villain—or is he even villainous?
5. A portion of the novel is in the form of letters. Does this change the mood or the flow of the novel? The way you see the characters?
6. Tin Win and Mi Mi develop an intense, literally symbiotic relationship: he walks for her; she acts as his eyes. They become inseparable, but then they are separated for decades. Given what you know about each character, how do you think they are able to withstand the time apart?
7. Discuss the role of memory in the novel, both individual and collective.
8. Burma (now known as Myanmar) was occupied by the British from the nineteenth century until 1948. How important is this colonial history to the major events of the novel?
9. Prophecy and superstition play a significant role in Burmese culture. Do you think this belief system inspires a fundamental feeling of security or of anxiety in the main characters of the novel, and why?
10. The novel contrasts Western and Eastern values: individualism and personal achievement versus kinship and transcendence. Where and how are these differences brought to light?