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Book Worm: Hidden love story discovered in 'The Art of Hearing Heartbeats'

By Kathleen Duncan
April 23, 2014 at 3:03 p.m.
Updated April 22, 2014 at 11:23 p.m.


A man sits down at your table. You're startled. You think about moving. But then, he knows your name. He knows your father. He offers to tell you a story.

The story you came to hear.

Julia's father disappeared one morning after telling her that he loves her. He, according to the authorities, climbed aboard a plane and vanished somewhere in Thailand.

And he never came back.

After a lifetime of being a successful businessman, good father and decent husband in New York, Julia's father is just gone.

His disappearance is a mystery until the day she finds a love letter he wrote to a woman in Burma, where he grew up. She follows the letter to a small mountain town, where she sits down at a table and listens to a story.

Her father's story.

"The Art of Hearing Heartbeats" by Jan-Philipp Sendker is a tale of love, loss, devotion and duty. It spans the 1950s to the present, ranging between modern day New York and Julia's father's childhood in Burma.

As she listens to this tale told by a stranger, Julia learns more about her father than she ever realized existed.

Hidden behind the man she always knew is a love story of such depth and magic that Julia finds it hard to believe.

It's almost, one could say, a fairy tale.

As a young man, her father was abandoned by his mother because she believes he brings bad luck. He becomes blind at a young age and must find his way through the world on his own with only an adoptive mother to help him. Quiet, introverted and mostly friendless, he muddles along until he develops an exceptional sense of hearing.

As he is working at the monastery one day, he hears a sound that draws him to it. A soft, lulling, thumping sound. He hears the heartbeat of the woman who will become his true love. He hears Mi Mi.

But fate can be cruel, and too soon after discovering each other, they are separated, and he is sent to America.

Sentimental and mystical, "The Art of Hearing Heartbeats" is a story woven of tradition and devotion.

It questions our ability to ever really know our parents or to understand our past. It explores superstition, obligation and faith.

But most of all, it's about love.

A love so great that it makes life worth living - even if that life is a life apart from the other half of your heart.

Kat Duncan is the photo and video editor at the Advocate. She loves to read, travel, run and play with her pup, Panda. Chat with her about books on Twitter @Kat Duncan_VA.

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