Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sentimental Journey

Why would a successful New York lawyer leave his wife and daughter and vanish without a trace? That's the question that Jan-Philipp Sendker asks in The Art of Hearing Heartbeats. That's the mystery Julia Win is trying to solve when, four years after his disappearance, she discovers a love letter her father wrote many years earlier to a woman in Burma. He would never discuss the first twenty years of his life which he spent in Burma, so she reasons that the answers to her questions might lie there, perhaps with the woman addressed in the unsent letter, the mysterious Mi Mi in the tiny village of Kalaw.

Julia travels to Kalaw and meets a mysterious man named U Ba who seems to know all about her. The bulk of the book is a series of flashbacks in which U Ba tells Julia the story her father Tin's life. It's a story full of hardship, sadness, hope, endurance and love. It is frankly sentimental and I am frankly not, so the soap opera, 'if only', aspects of the story wore me down. Also, it's translated from German and seemed a little heavy on cliches.

Those who enjoy fairy tales about star-crossed lovers will be drawn to this book - there's a kind of operatic grandeur to the story.   And there are some beautiful descriptions of the natural world in the remote Burmese countryside. But I'm afraid my disbelief just refused to suspend itself.

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