There are very few books that I will willingly buy extra copies of to give out to friends. In fact, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is only the second book that has made it to the list. The first one is the overwhelmingly popular The Fault In Our Stars by John Green. When I first read it two or three years ago, I was caught by surprise. I wasn’t even going to buy it; I was in a bookstore killing time and the bright blue cover caught my eye. I settled into a corner, started reading, and twenty minutes in I was already tearing up. Yep. Gus and Hazel’s story hit me where it hurts. Tin Win and Mi Mi’s story similarly broke me in public, the only difference this time being that I cried on the subway, not in a bookstore. However, while Gus and Hazel ended in a candle flame flickering into smoke, Tin Win and Mi Mi’s ending gave me a heart-wrenching conclusion.
Sendker’s language is beautiful, so much so that I found myself wanting to read the novel again as soon as I was done with it. I wanted to go over the book and highlight the passages that touched me, and then hand the book to a random stranger and say, here, this is a beautiful experience. Have it. I hope that the love story of a blind man and a crippled woman touches you as it did me.
Hearing Heartbeats hooked me fairly quickly. I was invested in it as soon as I got halfway through the first chapter. I did see the plot twist coming a mile away, but I almost didn’t mind because the road that Sendker took me on in order to get there was amazing. Julia’s journey into her father’s life is as poignant as it is painful. Tin Win made his choices, some of them I don’t necessarily think were the right ones, but he lived them as best he could.
What really wrenched my heart was how there is not a single person in there who didn’t have a measure of happiness, and a measure of sorrow in unequal portions. The tragedy as well, of being in a place where one is unable to make choices, where true happiness outside of hope is nigh impossible, resonated with me. Page after page of heartbreaking choices. Line after line of beautiful prose. The utter uncertainty and bleakness of certain aspects of life. The way that Sendker brought all things full circle. This is a wonderful read, but really, I wouldn’t encourage you to read it in public. I definitely got a couple of stares from strangers in the subway as I tried to discreetly wipe my tears, but I was too deep into the story to make the effort to try and hide the tears.
More than anything, I think it was the protagonist’s decision to live life as best he could, as best he thought he could, while struggling through choices that were not necessarily in his hands to make, that made this book echo as profoundly as it did with me. Tin Win’s tragedy, success, and homecoming are as human as they come, and that is this book’s most endearing quality: its honesty.
“His mouth remembered, and his lips. His fingers remembered, and his nose. How long he had craved this scent. How had he managed without her? Where had he found the strength to get through a single day without her?
There was room enough for two in the bed.
How light she had become.
Her hair in his face. Her tears.
So much to share, so much to give, so little time.”
Rating: 4.5/5. It’s a quick read, but don’t read it too fast. This book is too beautiful to be treated like fast food take out. Would read again, definitely, and would gift to others.