The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is a touching, beautifully written novel. Four years after her father disappears, Julia follows his trail to Burma where her father was born and spent his first 20 years. Upon arriving she is greeted by U Ba who begins to tell her a tale of a boy, his multiple losses, his blindness and his deep love for a crippled woman, Mi Mi.
Julia is in disbelief that this boy who was blind and suffered so greatly, but who also studied under a renowned Buddhist monk, could be her father. As she listens, Julia learns more about her father, their relationship and herself in those few days with U Ba.
Tin Win was abandoned by his mother after his father died and raised by a kindly, widowed neighbor. He is isolated and introverted even when he studies at the monastery, but he quickly masters reading braille and begins to experience the world through sound. He becomes so masterful, he can hear the insects, the animals and the heartbeats of any creature.
It is when Tin Win encounters Mi Mi as he struggles to make his way independently home that he really comes alive. Mi Mi was born with crippled feet, making her unable to walk. Together, they are able to experience the world in a new way.
The story is touching and compelling and while you know that Tin Win and Mi Mi end up separated for 30 years (partially due to the manipulations of Tin Win’s selfish uncle), you continue to root for them. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats moved along quickly with perfectly executed chapters, vivid descriptions of Kalaw and Rangoon and gorgeous prose.
I will share one example here:
“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. The moment when a lover confesses that there’s someone else and that he’s leaving. Or the day we bury a father or mother or best friend. Or the moment when the doctor informs us of a malignant brain tumor.”
I would recommend The Art of Hearing Heartbeats to anyone who enjoys eloquent story-telling with vivid details of a country we might never have the opportunity see.