|The Art of Hearing Heartbeats
A poignant and inspirational love story set in Burma, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats spans the decades between the 1950s and the present. When a successful New York lawyer suddenly disappears without a trace, neither his wife nor his daughter Julia has any idea where he might be . . . until they find a love letter he wrote many years ago, to a Burmese woman they have never heard of. Intent on solving the mystery and coming to terms with her father’s past, Julia decides to travel to the village where the woman lived. There she uncovers a tale of unimaginable hardship, resilience, and passion that will reaffirm the reader’s belief in the power of love to move mountains.
Other Press (January 31, 2012)
Book Club Ideas
There are several items that were important to both Mi Mi, the Burmese woman, and Tin Win that can be included in decorations for The Art of Hearing Heartbeats book club party, as shown in the photo below.
- A fruit pyramid. The villagers brought offerings of fruit to Mi Mi’s house and “constructed little pyramids of fruit.” (p.309-310)
- Mi Mi’s cheroots. U Ba (the Burmese man leading Julia to her father and Mi Mi) told Julia, “She spent every afternoon on the porch rolling cheroots, rocking gently to and fro, eyes closed. Her lips moved as if she was telling a story. Anyone privileged enough to have seen her at this task will never forget the graceful elegance of her movements. Her cheroots really did have an entirely distinctive flavor. They were sweeter, with a trace of vanilla that lingered in the mouth.”(p.291)
- Candles and a Buddha. “Dozens of candles, spread out across the floor, bathed the room in a warm reddish-yellow glow. On a shelf near the ceiling stood a large Buddha.” (p.324) Tin Win spent time in a Buddhist monastery in his youth. It was there that he met Mi Mi and learned to read Braille.
- Yellow flowers for the yellow blossoms Mi Mi placed in her hair.
More ideas for decorations for The Art of Hearing Heartbeats book club party can be found in these two passages:
- “My father loved those parts of New York that are really of interest only to tourists. The Circle Line ferries that loop around Manhattan. The Empire State Building. The Statue of Liberty, the bridges. As if he were only passing through. Most of all he was drawn to the Staten Island Ferry.” (p.297)
- “The first townspeople were standing in the yard that afternoon with little wreaths of fresh jasmine and bouquets of orchids, freesias, gladiolas, and geraniums.” (p.309)
A great way to familiarize oneself with a particular culture is through that culture’s traditional music. Burmese Folk and Traditional Music
Book Club Menu
Julia wanted to make U Ba a vegetarian curry that she sometimes prepared with a friend in New York. But, Julia not being used to cooking on an open fire, burned the rice and the vegetables boiled over. (p.313). I would suggest preparing your vegetarian curry on the stove top to avoid Julia’s mishap.
Bake a Semolina Cake for dessert. Semolina cake is a traditional Burmese coconut-flavored snack cake. And, since U Ba stopped by the tea house twice a day (p. 323), be sure to serve the Semolina Cake with hot tea.
Book Club Resources
Ratings at the time this post was published
|Goodreads: 4 stars (38,518 ratings)|
|Amazon: 4.4 stars (2,503 ratings)|
|LibraryThing: 3.9 stars (73 ratings)|
|My Rating: 4.5 The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is a story of a love and trust forged between two adolescents that neither time nor distance could destroy. Unbelievably, author Jan-Philipp Sendker had trouble finding a publisher for the English translation of this novel, originally published in German. Kudos to Other Press for believing in this literary work.|
Spoiler Alert: Discussion guide may contain spoilers to the book.
1. In your opinion, what does the back-and-forth between Julia’s and U Ba’s narratives add to the telling of the love story between Tin Win and Mi Mi? How do these stories interrelate?
2. Tin Win is born to parents who abandon him as a child but Mi Mi is born into a close-knit family. Mi Mi’s mother, especially, adores her daughter. Do you see this developmental difference reflected in the adult each one becomes, or in the way the two relate to one another?
3. After he loses his sight, Tin Win spends several years in a monastery under the tutelage of the abbot, U May. In your opinion, what does U May model for Tin Win? How does Tin Win grow in these years?
4. Tin Win’s wealthy uncle, U Saw, finances Tin Win’s eye operation and subsequent education abroad. But to U Saw’s discredit, his motives are self-interested, and for his own convenience, he obstructs all communication between Tin Win and Mi Mi. Is U Saw portrayed as a villain—or is he even villainous?
5. A portion of the novel is in the form of letters. Does this change the mood or the flow of the novel? The way you see the characters? Read more . . .
6. Tin Win and Mi Mi develop an intense, literally symbiotic relationship: he walks for her; she acts as his eyes. They become inseparable, but then they are separated for decades. Given what you know about each character, how do you think they are able to withstand the time apart?
7. Discuss the role of memory in the novel, both individual and collective.
8. Burma (now known as Myanmar) was occupied by the British from the nineteenth century until 1948. How important is this colonial history to the major events of the novel?
9. Prophecy and superstition play a significant role in Burmese culture. Do you think this belief system inspires a fundamental feeling of security or of anxiety in the main characters of the novel, and why?
10. The novel contrasts Western and Eastern values: individualism and personal achievement versus kinship and transcendence. Where and how are these differences brought to light?
Purchase The Art of Hearing Heartbeats at your favorite bookseller
|Jan-Philipp Sendker was born in Hamburg Germany and currently lives in Berlin. He resided in NY 1990-1995 while American correspondent for the German paper Stern, and in Asia 1995-1999 as an Asian correspondent. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is Sendker’s first English publication.
Please visit Jan-Philipp Senker’s website for more information.
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is an Indie Next Book selection for February 2012 and an Amazon.com Best Book of the Month, February 2012.
Personal Insights, Favorite Quotes, etc…
This YouTube video includes some wonderful images the Burmese people and interesting comments from Jan-Philipp Sendker on how The Art of Hearing Heartbeats came about.
Mr. Sendkar describes Burma as a “sensual” country. He listened to Puccini operas while writing The Art of Hearing Heartbeats because he wanted to write a novel “that touches the reader.”
Here are some notable quotes from The Art of Hearing Heartbeats:
“I will tell you: It’s love. Love makes us beautiful. Do you know a single person who loves and is loved, who is loved unconditionally and who, at the same time, is ugly? There’s no need to ponder the question. There is no such person.”
“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 know new people, many of whom even became his friends.”
Do you have any other ideas or recipes for a book club party for The Art of Hearing Heartbeats? We would love to have you share them with us! You can leave a comment below and upload pictures as well.