The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker, translated by Kevin Wiliarty
I think I will forever remember this book, perhaps not so much for the story, but for a single word: a blind young man sitting in the dark with hands running across the pages answers when asked what he’s doing … “Traveling.”
That, I believe, is a perfect literary moment.
But to get the full experience, you should, of course, read the entire debut novel. Long an international bestseller, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats arrives in English translation a whole decade after its native German publication. The title’s arduous journey Stateside as told by author Jan-Philipp Sendker, who was both American and Asian correspondent for the German newsmagazine Stern, is well worth a read.
Heartbeats begins with Julia, a young hapa Burmese American woman from New York, who arrives on the other side of the world in search of news about her father, a wealthy, powerful lawyer who disappeared four years ago without a word to his family. A single, unfinished letter has brought her to this remote Burmese village, to a local teahouse where she is surprised by an older man, U Ba, who seems to know far too much about her, who dares to ask, “‘Do you believe in love?'”
Over the following days, U Ba tells Julia a haunting story about a young boy, Tin Win, who is abandoned by his mother and raised by a caring neighbor. He loses his eyesight, but through his other senses gains a whole new world. Sent to the nearby monastery to study, he meets the young daughter of one of the temple staff, a girl whose crippled legs have never stopped her from living her life fully, whose beautiful heartbeat Tin Win recognizes immediately. The two are fated for eternity, even as their lives take separate paths.
For Julia to reunite with her estranged father, she must come to understand her relationship to this lovers’ tale, and to recognize the many different kinds of love – all true, sincere, lasting – that bind heartbeats together forever.
With Valentine’s Day just looming, this ‘little-novel-that-could-and-did’ is poised to hit bestseller lists sooner than later. The story’s simple (dare I say … blind?!) trust in the everlasting power of love guarantees Heartbeats‘ sweetness will last far longer than the empty calories of even the very best heart-shaped confections.
Published: 2002, 2012 (United States)