On the Bookseller’s Bookshelf: The Art of Hearing HeartbeatsFebruary 2, 2012
Starting Church Street has been wonderful, but it’s also been full of hard work. Last week in particular was challenging, both at work and personally, and I was longing for a book that would take me out of the daily grind and help me see the bigger picture, that would help me believe in the beauty and mystery that so easily gets lost I concentrate on the daily details of my job. I picked up The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, just out in paperback, and it was perfect — beautifully written with a compelling plot and believable characters, plus a message that I really needed to hear.
Technically, it’s a love story. But it isn’t about happy endings, sappy sentiment or the idea that soulmates stay together forever. In this story, love is a powerful force that changes how you experience life, not a simple solution for immediate happiness.
The plot involves a young woman, Julia, who goes in search of her missing father and ends up in his birthplace, Burma, listening to a tall tale from a mysterious stranger who knows intimate details about her life and her father’s story. As she listens to the man talk, she’s exposed to all the mystery, magic and shadowy superstitions that are part of daily life in his impoverished town. As an American, and as a child abandoned by her father, she’s resistant to superstition, angry over how nonsensical and impractical it seems. But, as the mystery man’s story continues, Julia starts to suspend her disbelief. It’s only after doing this that she’s able to move beyond logic and fact and get to the real truth about her family.
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats challenges our treasured Western ideas: Seeing isn’t necessarily believing. Two plus two isn’t always four. The shortest distance between two points may not be a straight line. Imposing total order on our lives is tempting, but that path doesn’t allow for mystery, and mystery is part of the reality of life.
While The Art of Hearing Heartbeats isn’t a traditional romance, it’s also not a morality tale. It challenges both superstition and science, but it doesn’t decide between the two — both worldviews have their own advantages and problems, and we see both sides through the characters. The author doesn’t try to get Julia, or the reader, to abandon the Western world. Instead, we’re asked to allow love, sacrifice, and even a bit of faith, into our life of reason.