In the German novelist Sendker’s sequel to The Art of Hearing Heartbeats (2012), a Manhattan attorney returns to Burma 10 years after her first visit for further lessons in love.
When she was 28, intellectual property lawyer Julia traveled to Burma, where she learned of her Burmese father’s early life and his reunion with the love of his life, whom he’d left behind before moving to America and marrying Julia’s American mother. While there, she became close to the saintly half brother, U Ba, she never knew existed. Since her return to New York, she has meant to return to Burma but never got around to it. Now, shortly after breaking up with her boyfriend and receiving a letter from U Ba, Julia begins to hear a voice asking her questions. A psychiatrist prescribes drugs to quell the voice. Instead, she visits a Buddhist center, where a Burmese monk clarifies that another woman’s soul is trapped inside Julia’s body. Soon, Julia is winging her way to Burma, where she quickly finds U Ba, who takes her to visit Khin Khin, an elderly woman who tells the story of her dead half sister, Nu Nu, whose voice haunts Julia. (In his first novel, Sendker used the similar technique of framing one story inside another.) Nu Nu’s crisis was that she loved her first son more than her second. The second son, Thar Thar, grew up aware he was unwanted by his mother. Nevertheless, after his loving father’s early death, Thar Thar cared well for his mother and brother, but when Burmese soldiers forced Nu Nu to make a “Sophie’s choice,” she didn’t hesitate in deciding to save her favorite. So, 12-year-old Thar Thar was forced into the army. As Julia and U Bar discover what became of Thar Thar, Julia learns about the power of love and realizes where her own heart truly belongs.
Sendker can be a mesmerizing storyteller, but his high quotient of romantic spiritualism is hard for even the mildly skeptical to take seriously.