04 February 2014

A Well-Tempered Heart

This month my online book club, From Left to Write, read the second book by Jan-Philipp Sendker, A Well Tempered Heart. Last year we read his first novel, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, and I absolutely loved it.

As is typical for my 'official' book club post, I'm not going to write a review of the book but rather discuss an experience the book brought to mind for me - sort of like a writing prompt. Here's a little overview of this sequel to his first novel, borrowed from Amazon:
Almost ten years have passed since Julia Win came back from Burma, her father’s native country. Though she is a successful Manhattan lawyer, her private life is at a crossroads; her boyfriend has recently left her and she is, despite her wealth, unhappy with her professional life. Julia is lost and exhausted. One day, in the middle of an important business meeting, she hears a stranger’s voice in her head that causes her to leave the office without explanation. In the following days, her crisis only deepens. Not only does the female voice refuse to disappear, but it starts to ask questions Julia has been trying to avoid. Why do you live alone? To whom do you feel close? What do you want in life? Interwoven with Julia’s story is that of a Burmese woman named Nu Nu who finds her world turned upside down when Burma goes to war and calls on her two young sons to be child soldiers. This spirited sequel, like The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, explores the most inspiring and passionate terrain: the human heart.
I was really excited to read this book; the first one was so beautiful. Thanks to life chaos I'm not quite done yet, but I have read a few things that really stood out to me. The first was this, at the beginning of the fourth chapter:

"How thin is the wall between us and madness? No one knows what it is made of. No one knows how much pressure it can withstand. Until it gives."

I watch that wall every day. Some days I stand on one side, a comfortable distance from it, secure in my own particular brand of normalcy (let's be honest.....normal is different for everyone - there's not just one!). But some days (or weeks, and in the unfortunate times, months)  I stand uncomfortably on the wrong side of that wall, wondering how to get back to the 'right' side.

I have written here before about not being able to trust that handy inner voice we all have, because mine has a habit of lying. It will confidently tell me I'm not good or deserving enough for something I desperately wanted; it will happily tell me to buy that expensive thing I know I don't need. It will keep me fro doing the things I enjoy, because I can't be bothered to care. That's the thing about the monster called madness - it can't really be controlled, and while there are often signs that alert someone to the pressure point sometimes it can't be stopped. It gives.

And then the rebuilding begins.

This post was inspired by the novel A Well-Tempered Heart by Jan-Philipp Sendker. Feeling lost and burned out, Julia drops her well paying job at a NYC law firm. After hearing a stranger’s voice in her head, she travels to Burma to find the voice’s story and hopefully herself as well. Join From Left to Write on February 4 we discuss A Well-Tempered Heart. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

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