German journalist Sendker’s first novel, originally published in German in 2002, is a love story set in Burma and imbued with Eastern spirituality and fairy-tale romanticism.
Tin Win, a successful Wall Street lawyer originally from Burma, has been missing since his passport was discovered near the Bangkok airport four years ago. After finding an unmailed love letter he wrote to a Burmese woman named Mi Mi, his daughter Julia, also a Manhattan lawyer, goes in search of her father who never told his American Catholic wife or their two children anything about his life before America. In a teahouse in Kalaw, a small town in Burma—the opening pages are a lovely rendering of her sensory overload—Julia encounters a mysterious older man named U Ba who says he has been waiting for her. He also claims to know Tin Win and asks her one question, “Do you believe in love?” Although the novel is ostensibly being narrated by Julia, her encounter with U Ba is really a framing device for him to tell Tin Win’s romantic story: After his father dies and his mother deserts him on his sixth birthday, Tin Win is raised lovingly by his widowed aunt Su Kyi, but by ten years old he has gone blind. Su Kyi takes him to the monastery where the saintly abbot teaches him to follow the wisdom of the heart. At 14 he encounters Mi Mi when, with a newly discovered magical skill to hear and interpret heartbeats, he hears her heart beating. He falls in love immediately. Mi Mi was born with mangled feet and cannot walk but is lovely and has a magical gift for healing song. Their love has a purity of trust and oneness that cannot be destroyed. How Tin Win regains his sight and ends up in America is less important than the love he and Mi Mi maintain in mutual silence for 50 years.
Fans of Nicholas Sparks and/or Elizabeth Gilbert should eat this up.