Thursday, 1 October 2015

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker

Just finished this amazing book which I bought during my last sejour in Sweden. When checking the original title I realised that the original book is in German. Jan-Philipp Sendker was a foreign correspondent for German magazine Stern in the nineties (from 95-99 in Asia). In 2002 he wrote this book entitled Das Herzenhören.

It such a beautifully written book about the most important thing in life, love. In our busy world we tend to forget that, and we are stressing through the 'squirrel wheel' to achieve more and more. If you want to stop for a moment and reflect, you just have to read this book.

It is difficult to make a summary of the story without spoiling it for new readers.  It is developing in a way that surprises you all the time. Just a few hints of the story. Tin Win (originally from Burma) is a very successful Wall Street lawyer. One day, he is retired by this time, he leaves the flat in the morning not to return. Investigations show that he flew to Bangkok, but from there the track ends. Four years later, his daughter Julia, finds love letters her father wrote to a Mi Mi living in Burma. The curious thing is, the letters were never sent. She is somewhat shocked to find out that her father might have had a secret love affairs and curious why the letters were never sent. She has the address and decides to go looking for him.

She heads for Kalaw in Burma, where her father grew up. Within a couple of days she is contacted by a man called U Ba. The strange thing is that he seems to have expected her. Naturally, she is suspicious of the man, even more so when he claims to know her father. Over a couple of days he tells her a story of a man and a woman whose love conquers the every day hardship of life. Julia does not know what to believe. How come that a stranger can tell her things about her father's life of which his own family had no idea.  As the days pass and U Ba talks to her in his calm and matter of fact way, she is convinced that her father had so much more to him that she ever had time to discover. She is fascinated by the story, but has difficulties to understand that U Ba is talking about her father.  Julia can not wait until she sees her father again and ask him herself.

What U Ba is doing in telling the story, little by little, is to try to make Julia understand something of her father and Mi Mi. They had something special between them, not understandable to other people. The communicated on another level, close to nature and within their own spirits.

The writing is so beautiful (even in a translated Swedish version) and perfectly manages to let us have a peak into the tranquility and spiritualism in the Asian way of looking at life. Sometimes I can envy this belief in something which is totally different from our own religion and way of living. There is a calming effect in the belief, looking to higher things than mere materialistic things. From time to time it is also a little bit irritating, like the overall belief in signs, astrologists and superstition. Tin Win's life is very much a result of a too superstitious mother. He himself has to face aspects of his live that he could never have imagined. But, maybe there is a higher power that governs our life?

I probably don't have to tell you that I did a little bit of crying, coming to the end. I feel though, that if the Tin Win and Mi Mi, had been aware of this, they would have wondered why. After all they had each other and their love and nobody and nothing could come between them, even if separated by an ocean. In a way it reminds me of another book I love, with an unusual love story, The Garden of Evening Mist by Tan Twan Eng. Maybe because it is also set in Asia, or maybe because there to, people have another view of love and what it really means.

I have to add this book to my list of eternal and unforgettable love stories. I am curious to read more of Sendker, although it seems his other books have not been translated. Hmmm, I could read it in German, I guess,  although it would take me a little longer to finish.

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