Book Review: “The Art of Hearing Heartbeats” by Jan-Phillippe Sendker

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, by Jan-Phillippe Sendker. 336 pages. Other Press. Jan. 31, 2012. ISBN: 978-1-59051-463-4. List price: $14.95.

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, by Jan-Phillippe Sendker. 336 pages. Other Press. Jan. 31, 2012. ISBN: 978-1-59051-463-4. List price: $14.95.

A love story that puts “The Notebook” to shame, “The Art of Hearing Heartbeats” is a moving tribute to undying love that perseveres practically beyond belief. Translated from its original German for the first time, Jan-Phillippe Sendker’s novel is an epic, tracing love and history that traverses five decades and several continents.

When Julia Win travels to the far reaches of Burma to search for clues about her father, whose mysterious disappearance from New York City four years prior was never understood, she never expected what she found. Nestled among the mountains in Kalaw, Julia learns of Tin Win’s first love and much more, from a stranger who seems to know an unusual amount about her.

Though the love story is enchanting, the real magic in “The Art of Hearing Heartbeats” is in Sendker’s depiction of the young couple, both suffering debilitating maladies, both loving each other more despite–and possibly because of–them. Sendker’s understanding and portrayal of physical obstacles like crippled feet and unseeing eyes is masterful. Paired with these challenges is a sense of hope, both anchored in and kept afloat by love.

For the more cynical among us, some aspects of Tin Win and Mi Mi’s story may be hard to stomach. Though beautiful, their love is no doubt far-fetched and at times its perfection, which exists even in its most torturous moments, becomes unbelievable. But for the love-hungry, the romantic, the dreamer, “The Art of Hearing Heartbeats” is a satisfying escape from reality. Love like this may not exist in our world, but we might be better off if it did.

Amina Elahi is Divanee.com’s Managing Editor. Check out her blog, where she posts words and images that make her think.