A Well-Tempered Heart
Jan-Philipp Sendker’s sequel to The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is as powerful as the first novel. With elements of fantasy, the author crafts a beautiful tale of love and loss in the mid-to-late 20th century. Julia, a thirty-something New York lawyer, begins to hear a voice in her head. The voice is insistent that Julia question her life choices. Julia, who lives alone, has very few close relationships and doesn’t even realize that she is lonely. Thinking she is going crazy, she tries to silence the voice using Western medicine to no avail.
Ultimately, Julia feels compelled to return to Burma, where her half-brother, U Ba, lives. U Ba’s life is as different from Julia’s as can be. Living simply and not caring for money, U Ba is content, while Julia is unsettled and is continuing to be tortured by the voice. U Ba convinces her that the voice is a spirit of a woman named Nu Nu who lost her child; the brother and sister embark upon a journey to learn the details of the dead woman’s life. What follows is a captivating story-within-a-story that pays homage to both maternal and romantic love, and that illustrates the horrors of war. As the story unfolds, Julia’s life is transformed in more ways than she can imagine.
The book, which was translated from German, is truly an original, the author’s prose flawless and evocative. To fully understand and enjoy the book in its full context, I suggest that the reader begin with the first book.