Author: Jan-Philipp Sendker
Translated by: Kevin Wiliarty (from German)
Publisher: Other Press, LLC
Pub. Date: January 31, 2012
"And so there must be in life something like a catastrophic turning point, when the world as we know it ceases to exist. A moment that transforms us into a different person from one heartbeat to the next." (p.23)
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is a sensory novel about the power of love and human emotion. The passages were beautifully written, and the story itself was charming and delicate, yet powerful. The premise is that Julia, a fairly recent law school graduate, decides to travel to Burma to track down her father who mysteriously disappeared a few years earlier and who, it was recently learned, had traveled to Asia to return to the place where he grew up. Once in Burma, Julia meets a man, U Ba, who claims to have known Julia's father and who regales her with the supposed story of her father's childhood and life. In so doing, U Ba tells a charming tale of a young boy who is blind - a boy who learns to navigate and appreciate the world with his other senses - a boy who falls in love with a local girl and creates a relationship with her so close that others envy them despite their struggles.
Most of this book was made up of U Ba's retelling of this man's life. The story had a folk tale quality to it. I was reminded of The Blind Contessa's New Machine because of the beauty and charm in the writing and the story (coincidentally, the main characters in both are blind, but that wasn't what drew the similarity). And I was also reminded of (the movie version of) The Notebook because of that powerful and unyielding love that, I think, everyone wants. This book had all those things. So much of this book was about emotions and was almost encouraging, in a way, to become a more loving and peaceful person. Let me include some quotes that portrayed this for me:
It is rage that blinds and deafens us. Or fear. Envy, mistrust. The world contracts, gets all out of joint when you are angry or afraid. (p. 124)And here's a quote for book lovers:
A time of waiting offered moments, minutes, sometimes even hours of peace, of rest, during which, as a rule, she was alone with herself. and she needed these breaks to prepare herself for anything new, for any kind of change. (p. 165)
Love has so many different faces that our imagination is not prepared to see them all.... because we see only what we already know. We project our own capacities for - good as well as evil - onto the other person. Then we acknowledge as love primarily those things that correspond to our own image thereof. We wish to be loved as we ourselves would love. any other ways makes us uncomfortable. (p. 243)
Only a few days earlier he had explained to her that he did not merely read books but traveled with them, that they took him to other countries and unfamiliar continents, and that with their help he was always getting to now new people, many of whom even became his friends. (p. 128)The beauty this book elicited is its greatest strength - a reminder about the power of love and about the beauty all around us that we not even need to see to appreciate.