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TOP 500 REVIEWERon January 31, 2012
The first third of The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is enthralling. The remainder of the novel is problematic; it sustained my interest but not my enthusiasm.

After telling her that he was leaving for an appointment in Boston, Julia Win's father boarded a flight to Thailand and disappeared. The Times described him as "an influential Wall Street lawyer" but the police suspect he had a hidden past. Burmese by birth, Tin Win became an American citizen in 1959. Julia, a recent law school graduate, viewed her father as staid, reliable, out-of-date -- not the sort of person whose life is filled with mystery or who takes an unannounced trip to Thailand. Four years after his disappearance, Julia finds a letter he wrote to a woman named Mi Mi. Julia travels to Kalaw, determined to find Mi Mi, the only clue to her father's past. There she meets U Ba, who has been waiting to tell her the story Tin Win told him, a story from which "a life emerged, revealing its power and its magic."

Just as we're settling into Julia's quest, the story shifts to the one told by U Ba. It starts with Mya Mya, a young Burmese woman who regards the birth of Tin Win as a calamity. An astrologer's prediction that he will lose his sight is soon fulfilled. After his parents die, Tin is taken to a monastery. It is there that he first meets Mi Mi -- or, more precisely, that he first hears her heartbeat. Mi Mi was born with "crippled feet"; their disabilities draw Tin and Mi Mi together.

Hearts and heartbeats are frequent images in the novel. Jan-Philipp Sendker also makes good use of the imagery of balance: Mi Mi, for instance, is emotionally well balanced even though she is incapable of balancing on her misshapen feet. Tin balances his blindness with exceptional hearing. Mi Mi and Tin balance each other: when Tin carries Mi Mi on his back, her eyes provide their twinned vision, his feet set them in unitary motion. Julia, despite having all the advantages of a stable, upper class family and western education, finds that she needs to bring her life into balance: understanding her father becomes a necessary condition of understanding herself.

As related by U Ba, Tin Win's tale is a love story that too often shares the characteristics of a well written fairy-tale. There are times when the descriptions of Mi Mi's blossoming love are a little too obvious, too melodramatic, too much like Barry Manilow with punchier prose. Moreover, the description of their developing love creates a dull lull in the story arc. After Tin leaves Mi Mi to meet his uncle in Rangoon the novel regains some of its force, particularly after it circles back to Julia and her uncertainty about her father's love (understandable given his abandonment of her). At that point a different and more original love story emerges, one that addresses a child's love for a parent. U Ba sums it up: "Love has so many different faces that our imagination is not prepared to see them all."

As the novel winds down, we learn the rest of Tin's story. It comes to a predictable finish but (despite its greater length) it seems less important than Julia's. To the extent that Tin's story is about the purity of devotion shared by two separated lovers, I tend to agree with one of the characters who observes that love is a form of madness and hopes it isn't contagious. And as much as I would like to believe in the strength of heart displayed by Tin and (especially) Mi Mi, I found it incongruous that Tin couldn't give the same unconditional love to his daughter, and I was disappointed that Sendker didn't address that incongruity in greater depth.

It's difficult to introduce an element of mysticism in a book that isn't wholly a fantasy. The best writers (Haruki Murakami comes to mind) manage to convince the reader that the mystical is real. That Sendker doesn't quite pull it off is my largest reservation about The Art of Hearing Heartbeats. Its fine prose and entertaining moments nonetheless make the novel worth reading, and an unanticipated twist at the end pays a rewarding dividend.
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VINE VOICEon January 2, 2012
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
If you are an Amy Tan fan and/or you enjoyed 'The Bridges of Madison County' or 'Memoirs of a Geisha', then you will love this book! This is a love story between a boy named Tin Win and a girl named Mi Mi that lasts over 50 years and it's so beautiful, heartbreaking, touching and haunting. This book has the right mix of romance, magic, heartache and inspiration that will make it a favorite for many people. For years 'The Art of Hearing Heartbeats' has been a bestseller in Germany, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, Serbia, Israel, Croatia and Japan. Finally it has been translated in English and I'm so in love with this story that I've added it to my list of favorite books. I don't write book reports or spoilers in my reviews in order to avoid giving everything away, but what I will say is, don't hesitate to buy this book! 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 with everybody. It is THAT good.
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on February 8, 2012
I couldn't put this book down. I read it in just a day or two and I found it to be a beautiful story lovingly told by a talented writer. It is magical and poignant; an amazing, achingly sublime love story. It is a tale of faithfulness, perseverance, hope and trust. When have you ever loved someone enough to let them go without hatred or malice? Have you ever felt that kind of deep emotion that rings true thorough out your life despite the circumstances? Funny how people live lives that they know they were not meant to live simply because it is convenient or the right thing to do. As I read this book my heart ached for the characters but it ached also for myself. There is something in this book that will touch you profoundly, spur you onto greater heights. I know this because one can not read this tale without thinking about one's own life and the trajectory it is taking them on. Are you really living how you want, with whom you want...are you really honoring your soul or are you only marking time until some later date? Perhaps we could all learn the art of hearing heartbeats, beginning with listening to our own.
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on February 26, 2012
I read this book based upon another review that said --- "If you like Amy Tan..." (I do), and "If you like Bridges of Madison County..." (I did)... then you should read this book. Having now read the book, I would not go quite that far. This book is not as good as Amy Tan or even Bridges of Madison County. The writing is trite and repetitive. The phrase "children singing" occurs so often you begin to wish the children would just stop singing already. Great literature it is not. On the other hand, the central love story is compelling and would make a fine movie. Indeed, variations of this same love story - two young lovers separated through circumstances beyond their control are spared the messy business of navigating life side-by-side thus leaving their perfect love intact - have already made several dozen fine movies. I did want to keep reading just to see what would happen next and that has to be worth something. In this case: three stars.
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on January 21, 2013
This is a book that inspired a very lively discussion in our book club. It deals with moral obligation and the dilemma of following your heart or listening to your head. What is right or wrong depends on your perspective and this book invites you to decide what you would have done given the circumstances. Average writing but thought-provoking premise.
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on August 6, 2013
in addition to the already stated negative comments about this book, might i add that during the time mimi was supposedly contentedly rolling cheroots, and tin win was contentedly studying in america and practicing as an attorney, the rest of the burmese people were being cruelly and horribly suppressed and tortured by military dictatorship. interesting that he had no concern about what might have been happening to his beloved. a love story based on the reality of burmese history might have been more helpful to understanding the people of burma than this drivel.
for a real story about burma, i suggest you read karen connelly's excellent book: burmese lessons. it also happens to be a love story.
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on August 18, 2014
I read this one for my book club and the title put me off immediately. It just cries out "sappy", and it was. The story is more like a legend or a folktale, not the stuff of literature, and I can't understand why it was so popular in Europe. The author glorifies simple village life, which in reality can be frought with hunger, illiteracy, lack of access to power, clean water, healthcare, and just as many ill-tempered people as are found anywhere else. Yet the characters are noble, kind. loving, generous, etc., throughout any and all hardships, developing a bond that is both mystical and, finally, physical. The lovers are separated by a rich uncle who sends the boy to America for school and he never returns.

The American daughter who searches for him is suspicious, as sophisticated people must be, but is won over in the end by a love story which is beyond belief. If her father were so kind and selfless would he have left her without a word, and would he have gone fifty years with no attempt to return to his village to seek after the welfare of his love and the woman who raised him? The combination of cultural legend and Western story-telling just doesn't work.
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on October 13, 2013
This book serves absolute banalities about love, life, morality, obligation as literature. The super sensitive observations, sounds, feelings, abilities wound into partial fantasy was simply nausiating to me, but since it was for a bookclub I felt dishonest panning it without having finished the last page. Bridges of Madison is not my kind of book, but a much more honest love story. Strange that in her sevenhundred plus letters to Tin Win, Mi Mi never mentioned that he was becoming a father. Call me petty but there ought to have been an explanation of how this man who found a spider too noisy was able to live in Manhattan!
I am so disapointed that so many people think this is good literature. A Twinkie is closer to gourmet cooking than this is to good literature.
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VINE VOICEon July 7, 2013
I feel like I read a different book than the other reviewers. I can not tell you how much I disliked this book. I felt like it was a book from the 1970's when we were reading "Jonathon Livingstone Seagull". It felt like New Age clap trap. The writing was inadequate and the premise was just plain silly. That MiMi became so beautiful through love that people came from miles around was absurd. Why did it take 30 years to happen? I am glad that so many people got something out of it. I wasn't one of them.
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on July 21, 2013
I found the story within a story of a hip New Yorker searching for her Burmese father who has disappeared into rural Burma very familiar. The contrasts meant to heighten the drama between the two stories fell flat for me, but a friend reading it loved it. So there you go. The writing was flat with no attempts to color the language. For example, the folk tale of the princess by the river. was told like a fairy story. It just made me impatient to get on with it. I found myself skipping looking for the pay off and it never came. Again, a friend loved it. It was a chore for me to finish it. I can only conclude the authors has a lot of 5-star friends.
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