Title: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats: A Novel
Author: Jan-Phillipp Sendker
Publisher: New York: Other Press , c2006
Call No.: English SEN
Imagine being blind, and possessing such acute hearing that you could hear heartbeats – of a yet unhatched chick, or of a loved one standing across the room. Meet Tin Win, father of Julia, a man who prefers this predicament over sight.
The story starts in New York, where Julia sets off in search of her father who was last traced four years ago to a hotel in Bangkok. She discovers a letter written to a Mimi in Burma dated years before her birth, and with these leads she heads half-way across the globe. In a remote mountainous village, she meets U Ba, a man who seems to know everything about her father. But U Ba tells his tale in a round-about way, and from the start we are left wondering. Where is her father? Who is Mimi? Who is U Ba and why does he know so much?
Jan-Philipp Sendker does a perfect job of writing a novel that is part mystery, part romance, and part fable. The prose is poetic, melancholic and poignant. Much of the narration paints Burma as hauntingly beautiful, forever shrouded in mist where the dawns are always dewy and fresh. The story is so extraordinary that it renders it timeless and otherworldly. This is punctuated and grounded by Julia, the New Yorker who never fails to notice the poverty, the grime and the sticky humidity.
And facing Julia is a daunting question – did she ever know her father?
Contributed by Carmen Wong, Associate Librarian, Public Libraries Singapore