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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats

Jan-Philipp Sendker

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To purchase The Art of Hearing Heartbeats

Title: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats
Author: Jan-Philipp Sendker
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 325 pages
Original in: German
Availability: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats - US
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats - UK
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats - Canada
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats - India
Das Herzenhören - Deutschland
L'arte di ascoltare i battiti del cuore - Italia
El arte de escuchar los latidos del corazón - España
  • German title: Das Herzenhören
  • Translated by Kevin Wiliarty

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Our Assessment:

B : too simple and sappy and obvious -- but fine for what it is meant to be

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 3/10/2011 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "An epic narrative that requires enormous sentimental indulgence and a large box of tissues." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Art of Hearing Heartbeats begins with New York lawyer Julia Win reaching remote Kalaw in Burma (Myanmar) -- which is actually quite central, but given that everything in Burma remains remote ..... She is greeted there by an old man, U Ba, who explains he has (long) anticipated her arrival -- "I have waited four years", he tells her -- and knows a surprising amount about her, much to Julia's surprise.
       Julia has travelled to Burma on the trail of her father. Burma was his homeland, which he had left some half a century earlier, going on to become a successful entertainment lawyer in the United States. A few years ago he had suddenly and inexplicably disappeared -- and when Julia comes across old connections to Burma, suggesting a long-lost love back in the homeland, she drops everything and follows the trail, hoping to find her father, or at least learn what happened to him.
       She has the right spot -- Kalaw -- and U Ba has the information she wants, but he has his own ideas about how to let her know what became of her father: he thinks she needs to hear the whole story -- and that involves a lot of background, so he recounts everything about her father Tin Win's birth and childhood in Burma, so many decades ago.
       It is U Ba's account that makes up the bulk of the novel, as it then only occasionally returns to the present day and how Julia is taking all this in.
       It begins with his birth, as the astrological sign Tin Win was born under augured something bad -- "The child will bring sorrow on his parents" the local astrologer warns -- and, with Sendker making a great deal of Burmese fascination with and reliance on all things astrological, Tin Win's mom can think only of the worst. Soon enough, Tin Win is essentially orphaned, and then taken in by a kindly neighbor. He turns out to be a very bright lad -- but he is also blind.
       Eventually Tin Win comes across a soulmate, Mi Mi, who faces her own disability: her legs crippled, she can't walk. They both handle these hardships with equanimity, getting on well enough with the help of family and others. And once they have each other they are completely happy, perfectly paired.
       There are a few hiccoughs along the way -- but these of course demonstrate how close they are. Eventually, however, they must part, as Tin Win gets the opportunity to go to Rangoon, setting him on a course for learning, restored eyesight, and success in America. Mi Mi, meanwhile remains in Kalaw -- and only decades later might the two be physically reunited -- even as they always remain spiritually connected .....
       It's a pretty sappy adolescent love story, the local color, astrological hokum, and the characters' disabilities at least making it a bit out of the ordinary. Sendker presents the story reasonably well -- though Julia's part in the whole novel feels a bit forced, as he is unable (or unwilling) to consider most of Tin Win's life in America, and especially with the family he had there.
       Ultra-lite, sappy, romantic entertainment, with a touch of the spiritual (and, in the astrological, the supernatural too), The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is fine for what it is: pulp romance (of the eternal-love sort) with an exotic setting.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 December 2011

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The Art of Hearing Heartbeats: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       German author Jan-Philipp Sendker was born in 1960.

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