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December in Kalaw is a cold month. The sky is blue and cloudless. The sun wanders from one side of the horizon to the other, but no longer climbs high enough to generate any real warmth. The air is clear and fresh, and only the most sensitive people can still detect any trace of the heavy, sweet scent of the tropical rainy season, when the clouds hang low over the village and the valley, and the water falls unchecked from the skies as if to slake a parched world's thirst. The rainy season is hot and steamy. The market reeks of rotting meat, while heavy black flies settle on the entrails and skulls of sheep and cattle. The earth itself seems to perspire. Worms and insects crawl out of its pores. Innocent rills turn to rushing torrents that devour careless piglets, lambs, or children, only to disgorge them, lifeless, in the valley below.
But December promises the people of Kalaw a respite from all of this. December promises cold nights and mercifully cool days. December, thought Mya Mya, is a hypocrite.
She was sitting on a wooden stool in front of her house looking out over the fields and the valley to the hilltops in the distance. The air was so clear that she felt she was looking through a spyglass to the ends of the earth. She did not trust the weather. Although she could not remember ever in her life having seen a cloud in a December sky, she would not rule out the possibility of a sudden downpour. Or of a typhoon even if not a single one in living memory had found its way from the Bay of Bengal into the mountains around Kalaw. It was not impossible. As long as there were typhoons anywhere, one might well devastate Mya Mya's native soil. Or the earth might quake. Even, or perhaps especially, on a day like today, when nothing foreshadowed catastrophe. Complacency was treacherous, confidence a luxury that Mya Mya could not afford. That much she knew at the bottom of her heart. For her there would be neither peace nor rest. Not in this world. Not in her life.
About the Author-
Jan-Philipp Sendker, born in Hamburg in 1960, was the American correspondent for Stern from 1990 to 1995, and its Asian correspondent from 1995 to 1999. In 2000 he published Cracks in the Great Wall, a nonfiction book about China. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is his first novel. He lives in Berlin with his family.
Kevin Wiliarty has a BA in German from Harvard and a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. A native of the United States, he has also lived in Germany and Japan. He is currently an academic technologist at Wesleyan University in Middletown,
Connecticut, where he lives with his wife and two children.
October 3, 2011
This tearful, circuitous German bestseller traces the lost romance between a blind young monk and a poor crippled girl in pre-WWII Burma. Sendker employs an elaborate secondhand flashback device to send Julia, an American lawyer, to Burma on a hunch that she might find clues to the whereabouts of her Burmese father, Tin Win, a prominent New York celebrity lawyer who was blind as a child and vanished four years ago, apparently of his own volition. Julia, born to Win and his American wife in 1968, is a New Yorker used to metropolitan conveniences. She arrives in the village of Kalaw by virtue of a beautiful 1955 love letter from her father to a woman named Mi Mi and immediately bristles at the pace and privation of village life. A stranger named U Ba soon helps Julia unravel the mystery of her father, from his astrologically inauspicious birth and abandonment by a superstitious mother to his ensuing blindness and delivery to Buddhist monks who teach him to use his other senses keenly. When Tin Win meets Mi Mi, a kind, crippled creature, she acts as his eyes as he carries her upon his back. Their love remains unbroken through 50 years of incredible vicissitudes. An epic narrative that requires enormous sentimental indulgence and a large box of tissues.
November 1, 2011
German journalist Sendker's first novel, originally published in German in 2002, is a love story set in Burma and imbued with Eastern spirituality and fairy-tale romanticism. Tin Win, a successful Wall Street lawyer originally from Burma, has been missing since his passport was discovered near the Bangkok airport four years ago. After finding an unmailed love letter he wrote to a Burmese woman named Mi Mi, his daughter Julia, also a Manhattan lawyer, goes in search of her father who never told his American Catholic wife or their two children anything about his life before America. In a teahouse in Kalaw, a small town in Burma--the opening pages are a lovely rendering of her sensory overload--Julia encounters a mysterious older man named U Ba who says he has been waiting for her. He also claims to know Tin Win and asks her one question, "Do you believe in love?" Although the novel is ostensibly being narrated by Julia, her encounter with U Ba is really a framing device for him to tell Tin Win's romantic story: After his father dies and his mother deserts him on his sixth birthday, Tin Win is raised lovingly by his widowed aunt Su Kyi, but by ten years old he has gone blind. Su Kyi takes him to the monastery where the saintly abbot teaches him to follow the wisdom of the heart. At 14 he encounters Mi Mi when, with a newly discovered magical skill to hear and interpret heartbeats, he hears her heart beating. He falls in love immediately. Mi Mi was born with mangled feet and cannot walk but is lovely and has a magical gift for healing song. Their love has a purity of trust and oneness that cannot be destroyed. How Tin Win regains his sight and ends up in America is less important than the love he and Mi Mi maintain in mutual silence for 50 years. Fans of Nicholas Sparks and/or Elizabeth Gilbert should eat this up.
(COPYRIGHT (2011) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)
November 1, 2011
Four years before the start of the novel, Julia Win's father, Tin Win, vanished. After receiving a copy of an old love letter written by him to a woman named Mi Mi, Julia travels to a remote village in Burma to find him. While at a teahouse in Burma, Julia meets U Ba, who claims to know what happened to her father. But the Tin Win of whom U Ba speaks is nothing like the father Julia remembers. She doubts at first that the story is true. But the more she listens and the more time she spends in Burma, the more she believes. Julia is moved by the tragic love story involving Tin Win, a blind boy in rural Burma, and Mi Mi, whose misshapen feet made it impossible for her to walk. VERDICT The heart of this sentimental novel is the romance between the teenagers Tin Win and Mi Mi in pre-World War II Burma. Recommended for readers who enjoy sweetly tragic romances.--Pamela Mann, St. Mary's Coll. of Maryland
Copyright 2011 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.
December 15, 2011
Already a huge hit in Europe, Sendker's debut is a lush tale of romance and family set in mid-twentieth-century Burma. Four years after her father mysteriously disappeared, Julia Win traces him to the small town of Kalaw after finding a love letter among his possessions addressed to a woman named Mi Mi. In Kalaw, an old man named U Ba approaches her, promising to tell her the story of her father's life before he came to New York and met her mother. As a child, Tin Win was abandoned by his mother, who was told by an astrologer the boy was cursed. At 10, Tin Win gradually goes blind. He's taken in by a kindly neighbor, who finds him a home at a local monastery. It is there that he meets Mi Mi, whose crippled legs make her as much of an outsider as Tin Win. Their natural camaraderie quickly turns into love, but their happiness is brief. A beautiful tale bound to enchant readers on this side of the Atlantic.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2011, American Library Association.)
"[The Art of Hearing Heartbeats] is a love story set in Burma...imbued with Eastern spirituality and fairy-tale romanticism...Fans of Nicholas Sparks and/or Elizabeth Gilbert should eat this up."
- Publishers Weekly "An epic narrative that requires...a large box of tissues."
- Library Journal "Sweetly tragic."
- Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You "No matter what I even attempt to say, I can't possibly capture the absolute magic of this book. Like a spell, it haunts. Like love, it's going to endure."
- Margaret Dilloway, author of How to Be an American Housewife "A story at once both poignant and joyous, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats reaffirms how love can transform the harshest of realities into a mystical one. Sendker takes us from contemporary, upscale New York to impoverished Burma, weaving a complex tale that is part romance, part father-daughter story. Reading this book was like reading poetry, with full attention required for each sentence. A thoroughly immersive and enjoyable read."
- Shawna Yang Ryan, author of Water Ghosts "Set in Burma, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is a rare novel. Telling the story of a young blind man's journey through a world of auditory intensity, Jan-Philipp Sendker renews one's faith in the possibility of real, pure love. I finished the book in tears."
- Romance Book Reviews "This book has the right mix of romance, magic, heartache and inspiration that will make it a favorite for a lot of people....This brilliant author, Jan-Philipp Sendker, has gifted us with a story that is so powerful and moving. It will touch your heart and you will want to share it, it is THAT good."
- Zuckerbuecherei "So intense and delicate at the same time that it takes your breath away. All human flaws become less important, all physical challenges are taken in dignity. The magic of the story evolves slowly...It will touch your heart deeply."
- SCLS Reading Suggestions "A masterfully told tale of enduring love, the twists of fate and the journey life takes us on to discover what is truly important."
- MegSchuster.com "From beginning to end this book is captivating. Tugging at the heartstrings, the story reveals human connectivity and exercises the wide-range of human emotion."
- Read Lately "It's been a long time since I've enjoyed a book so much and I'll be recommending this one to everyone I know. The prose reads like poetry, the sentences sing, the tale transports completely. It's a story within a story – a hero's quest, a love story, a fairytale. If all books were written this way – with this much magic in the language and with this much to teach us about the natural world, more people would love to read – I'm sure of it."
- Anderson's Reads "A truly remarkable novel has the capability of being translated from its original language and still being completely and utterly bewitching. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is one of these novels... Sendker creates a story so powerful that readers will think back to it time and again."
- New Jersey Herald "This novel is a beautifully woven love story of resilience, passion, and truth that lingers long into the silence after the last page."
- Karen's Two Sentence Book Club Reviews "An amazing journey of the senses."
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