The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker

Disclaimer:  I’m not even sure the following is coherent.  I haven’t felt the need to gush like this in a long time.  Please forgive my lack of professionalism (or at least the pretend professionalism I’ve tried to establish in past posts).  This post proves that I will never be able to write about Harry Potter.  Now I’m way off topic – someone needs to shut me up.

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is my first ‘February’ themed novel.  I heard of this book through the Books on the Nightstand podcast as one of Ann Kingman’s selections in the Two Books We Can’t Wait For You To Read segment.  She explained that this little book, originally published in Germany several years ago, became a bestseller by word-of-mouth alone – especially through book clubs.  A perfect selection for the month of all things heart related.

The morning after she graduates from law school, Julia’s dad says goodbye on his way to Boston on a routine business trip – and never returns.  The police try to track him down, but the search goes cold in Thailand and the investigation is stopped.  Four years later, Julia’s mom gifts her a box of her father’s effects where she finds a love letter written by her dad to a woman in Burma named Mi Mi.  Julia jumps on the next flight to Burma, travels to the small village her father grew up in, determined to understand her father’s disappearance and whether or not he’s been having an affair with this Mi Mi woman.  She meets a man, U Ba,  in a tea shop who tells her father’s story over the course of the novel – from his childhood to present day.  And that story within a story is one I haven’t been able to get out of my head since finishing the last page.

I’m gonna go ahead and just say it up front – I loved this book.  For those who don’t know, I hate love stories unless they are smartly written and rise above the saccharine.  Sendker has managed to do this in spades.  The characters are believably endearing, charmingly flawed, and will have you believing in the almost fantastical power of love to make the impossible happen.  The story reads like a fable or fairy tale, with hints of the mystical, but everything that happens could absolutely happen in real life.  A sweeping saga that takes place in a country I know very little about, but felt intimately connected to by the end – that kind of place setting takes extreme talent.

The story has a subtle depth that will sneak up on you and make you smile.  For me, what I’ve wanted to enjoy more  in books such as The Alchemist finally manifested itself in The Art of Hearing Heartbeats.  I know that doesn’t make much sense to anyone but me so let me try to explain.  Sendker’s novel lends itself to some very inspiring life lessons, yet never feels too unrealistic or preachy.  I loved the notion that we often don’t recognize how much we are loved because we’re only defining love as the reflection of how we love – that if someone loves us through actions when we love through words, something gets lost in translation.  The same also gets applied to life – just because one person might live life differently doesn’t mean they live a lesser life.

This whole ‘review’ feels like such a fraud because I have a very hard time writing about things I truly love and The Art of Hearing Heartbeats definitely falls into that category.  The setting, characters, and the way Sendker unfolds the story’s secrets are what makes this novel so special.  I only wished the novel had been longer so that I could have spent more time with Julia, Tin Win, and Mi Mi.  I’d also love to have learned more about Julia’s childhood with her mom and dad in New York City and how her father’s life differed in America than when he was growing up in Burma during Colonialism.  Apparently, Sendker is writing a sequel so I might get my wish someday!

Source:  Publisher via NetGalley (but I loved it so much I’ll be buying a physical copy to proudly display on the permanent shelves!). 

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5 thoughts on “The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker

  1. I just ordered this one from the library, and am so excited to see the enthusiasm of this review! It’s a book I have been hearing a lot about in the past few weeks, and I have a feeling that I am really going to love it. Thanks for your very thoughtful and enticing post. Your review is the best one I have seen so far.

  2. I heard about this one on Books on the Nightstand too! I’m glad it worked out so well for you, and I know EXACTLY what you mean when you make reference to The Alchemist. That bit really excites me because it sounds like it goes a step or three beyond the preachy life lessons and right on into awesome! 😀

    • I’m glad someone understands about The Alchemist! What helped was that everything that happened was grounded in reality despite how mystical certain parts felt. Such a great storyteller.

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