The Art of Hearing Heartbeats – Discussion Guide
by Jan-Philipp Sendker
Synopsis (for review see Plotlines)
When Julia Win’s father disappears one morning without a trace, on the day after her graduation from law school, her family is left unsettled and confused. It’s not until a few years later that her mother finds a piece of the puzzle — a unmailed love letter to a Burmese woman named Mi Mi.
Intent on solving the mystery and coming to terms with her father’s past, Julia puts her career and her life on hold to travel to the village where Mi Mi once lived. Her journey takes her to the small mountain village of Kalaw, where she is approached by a man who claims to know her father, and who seems to have an uncanny knowledge of Julia herself. Intrigued, she returns to meet him every afternoon and listen to his incredible tales of her father’s youth — of his childhood blindness, his education at a monastery, and, most of all, about his passionate relationship with a local girl.
- How do you feel about the back-and-forth between Julia’s and U Ba’s narratives? Do you they make you eager to read more about the love story between Tin Win and Mi Mi?
- What are your feelings to Julia’s mother? Is she a martyr or is she heartbroken?
- Tin Win is born to parents who literally walk away from him but Mi Mi is born into a close-knit family, do you see this shaping the adults they become?
- After he loses his sight, Tin Win spends several years in a monastery under the tutelage of the abbot, U May. How does this impact the person he becomes?
- Is Tin Won’s wealthy uncle hero or villain? Benevolent or selfish?
- Given how close Tin Win and Mi Mi were, that they shared one heart, how do you think they were able to stand the time apart?
- What do you think about Tin Win’s ability to withdraw and reinvent himself? Is he loving or cold to his American family?
- How does Burma and its history to the novel?
- Prophecy and superstition play a major role in the Burmese culture and shaping of events in this novel, do you think this gives the characters comfort or anxiety?
- Do you feel this novel reads like a fairy tale? Does everyone live happily ever after?