When her successful lawyer father disappears, New Yorker Julia and her family are mystified. Four years later, the family knows nothing except that he traveled back to his home country Burma. Julia's mother, who had always felt her husband kept his previous life a tight secret which he was unwilling to share, has moved on with her life. Julia, herself a successful lawyer, continues to wonder why her father would abandon his family. When she is given some letters that he wrote to a woman named Mi Mi, she decides she must travel to Burma for answers. Did her father ever love his American family? How could he have feelings for this Mi Mi, someone he probably had never seen or heard from since his youth?
When Julia lands in Burma, she meets U Ba, a Burmese gentleman who claims he can tell her about Mi Mi and her father. What he tells her over the course of several days is a poignant flashback story of Tin Win's (her father) childhood, shaped by his mother's abandonment, his childhood blindness, his remarkable chance at an education. Most important to the story is a crippled village girl named Mi Mi who becomes Tin Win's eyes as he becomes her legs. Together they learn the art of hearing heartbeats, and as Julia herself begins to listen, she finally hears the heartbeat of her father's life.
Julia tells the story of her trip to Burma as a flashback and U Ba tells the story of Tin Win and Mi Mi as a flashback, both successful techniques for this particular story. And in the audio version, everything just flows. Burma of the 1950's comes alive, both the small isolated village and the almost mystical relationship between the two youngsters. While others saw them as handicapped and limited, they discovered beauty, joy, and understanding found by few.
This is story telling at its best. Within the story, Julia shares that her father always told her old Burmese tales, sort of fairy tales. Her mother never approved, thinking they were dark and even scary. Both Julia and her father saw the beauty within the mysteries and the telling. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is itself that kind of story. Some readers will see or hear darkness; others will be drawn into the story of a love that needed no communication. I downloaded the audio version through WPLC, our library source for audio and ebooks. I highly recommend this title.