A Well-Tempered Heart

Jan-Philipp Sendker, trans. from the German by Kevin Wiliarty. Other Press, $15.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-59051-640-9
An American tourist’s second trip to her ancestral homeland in search of guidance falls flat in Sendker’s follow-up to The Art of Hearing Heartbeats. At first, Julia Win believes the voice in her head is just a symptom of the stress built up from her high-pressure job and recent breakup. But when Western medicine fails to give her relief, an old monk at a yoga retreat suggests the pleas come from an unhappy Burmese soul inhabiting her body. Returning to Burma, Julia enlists U Ba, the half-brother she hasn’t seen in 10 years, to put the unhappy soul to rest. It turns out to belong to a woman who tried to protect her sons from a raging civil war in the country, only to be forced into a terrible choice. The bloody horror of her ordeal opens readers’ eyes to a history of buried atrocities, but the premise for Julia’s visit is tenuous, and its resolution has little to do with her original problem. Sendker takes pains to develop a realistic world, only to offer Burmese characters who speak almost exclusively in aphorisms (“Whoever forgives is a prisoner no more”), coming across less as flesh-and-blood people than as mystical guideposts for the heroine. (Jan)
Reviewed on: 09/30/2013
Release date: 01/21/2014
Genre: Fiction
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