A Well-Tempered Heart

A Well-Tempered HeartI just knew that a second book from Sendker would be as transforming as his first novel.  I was hyped when I found out there was a sequel to The Art of Hearing Heartbeats.  I was drawn in by the new story (as expected) and continued to be fascinated by the author’s knack for weaving tales about people in Burma.
At the beginning of the book, we encounter Julia Win back in New York, trying to live her life as normally as she can.  After her visit to Burma ten years ago, she realizes how her correspondence with her half brother (U Ba) has slowly diminished over the years but she has never forgotten about him.  As a lawyer who deals with many meetings and stress, Julia has been swept up in her busy life and can hardly concentrate on anything else—including her personal life, which has taken a heartbreaking dive.  In the middle of a very important presentation, Julia’s thoughts are interrupted by a strange woman’s voice who starts asking questions about her motives.
As she decides to take a leave of absence from work for a few weeks because of her mental state, she finally contacts U Ba and decides to visit Burma once again.  Although her situation seems unnatural to her, U Ba and other inhabitants of Burma see no oddity with the fact that a woman is speaking to her in desperation.  Their explanation: the voice comes from the spirit of a deceased mother, who is troubled about her devastating past life and is searching for peace.
Some critics who have reviewed this novel seem unkind, in my opinion.  I will admit that Sendker’s debut was more life changing and positive than the sequel, but I still got the same philosophical advice about how people should live their life and how to appreciate the true power of what love can do.
As for those who are disapproving about the spiritual aspects being too “mystical” or commenting that the characters are not “flesh-and-blood” enough,  maybe that is the whole point.  This is a fictional work, after all.  It is all about the eye of the beholder and what someone’s beliefs are, as well as the experience a reader wants to feel when turning the pages of a book.  There is a lot of reality in here that can actually be “taken seriously”, thank you very much.  I mean, with the first story, someone who has the skill to hear heartbeats may be unrealistic but it so magical and unique, nonetheless.  Why take that feeling away from a reader, just because hearing heartbeats doesn’t exist in real life?   What did you think about the second book?  Do you think there will be a third?

If you are a member of the library, we have this title currently in Hard copy only.  This may or may not change in the future.  Please check the catalogue frequently for an update of formats.

To read reviews on A Well-Tempered Heart, please click on the links below.
From Kirkus.

From Publisher’s Weekly.

For information on Jan Philipp-Sendker, click here.

Discussion Questions

Here are some questions to think about after reading the book:

-What role does Burma play in this novel?  How does its landscape, history and ethos provide fertile ground to tease out both Julia and Nu Nu’s journeys?

-If The Art of Hearing Heartbeats was Julia’s quest to find out who her father was, what is it she’s setting out to uncover in this sequel A Well-Tempered Heart?

For the rest of the questions, please click on the link below, which is part of the author’s web page:
http://artofhearingheartbeats.com/reading-group-guide/reading-group-guide-for-a-well-tempered-heart/

Interesting Tidbit
Health care in Burma is really as dire as it is stated in the novel.  I was saddened to know that in the book, only people in the military or those who have money can have access to treatment in hospitals.  I decided to learn more about this.  While I did not seem to find information on that particular fact, I did come across an article that explained how many residents of Burma have taken refuge in Thailand to receive medical care.  If you wanted to know more about this, please refer to the following link: http://karennews.org/2014/02/burmas-medical-refugees-find-health-care-in-thailand.html/

This book reminded me of …
So many titles popped in my head while I was reading this story.  Some, for just a particular scene, others due to the fact that they shared similar tones.  Obviously, the first novel by Sendker (The Art of Hearing Heartbeatswas brought to mind because after all, the main characters are revisited and so is the setting.  It reminds me in certain instances of The Dark Road by Ma Jian because of how bleak things seem for Meili and Kongzi hiding from their strict government, just as Nu Nu and her husband have to struggle with the oppressive authorities in Burma.  This also brought to mind Kim Echlin’s book, The Disappeared because of how so many innocent Cambodians died at the hands of people from their own country—just as the Burmese population must sink or swim with the political views surrounding them.  At the same time, the scene of Thar Thar in the military and living in the camps made me think of the camp scenes in The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer.  The tough and often fatal days that the soldiers had to suffer through, from deadly threats and starvation are depicted realistically in both stories.  In Diane Setterfield’s Bellman & Black, there are so many bad things happening one after another to the main character, that it often feels like Nu Nu has the same bad luck or karma (when we follow what happens in her life).  The part where Nu Nu must give her children to the army, can easily be compared to the pain Isabel feels when she must deal with returning her adopted daughter to the biological mother, in The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman.  Finally, in Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, we see how the American way of life is scrutinized by the Korean population, just as Julia tries to come to terms with the cultural differences between her American upbringing and the Burmese traditions she is exposed to.

Favorite quote from book:
Among many of U Ba’s memorable sayings, this one stuck out for me: “What are people with guns most afraid of?  Other people with guns?  No!  What do violent individuals fear most?  Violence?  I should say not!  By what do the cruel and selfish feel the most threatened?  All of them fear nothing as much as they fear love … People who love are dangerous.  They know no fear.  They obey other laws.” (p. 82)

Most merciless moment in the story:
When Nu Nu is told that she may only choose one son to take out of the army.  Her decision is not surprising, but it haunts her for the rest of her life. (p. 221-222)

Next month’s title:
Matadora by Elizabeth Ruth

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