A Well Tempered Heart is a quirky, mesmerising novel on the theme of self-discovery. This spirited sequel to the award winning The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, might seem simply to be an easy contemporary read yet it possesses much deeper meaning. In Jan-Phillip Sendker’s new novel, Julia, despite being a successful Manhattan lawyer with prestige and wealth is unhappy. She returns to Burma, the homeland of her father, as a lost soul; there she encounters a distressed mother whose life was turned upside down when her sons were taken away to fight in a civil war. The novel’s message is that there is more to life than money and success; love and exploring an inspiring terrain are much more important.
Julia, exhausted and distressed from the unknown voice in her head, goes in search of the identity of the women that she believes to be carrying her soul. This coincides with Buddhist beliefs as, according to Buddhism, death is not the end of life; it is merely the end of the body we inhabit in this life. Our spirit still remains, needs and seeks out attachment to a new body and new life. Where we are to be re-born is a result of past accumulation of positive and negative action, karma being a result of one’s past actions. in A Well Tempered Heart, Julia leaves the Westernised culture of Manhattan to meet up with her half brother U Ba in the completely different world of Burma. As a narrator, Julia shows clear compassion for the country of her birth. Her once abandoned relationship with her brother helps her on her journey of unknown self-discovery; this is a relationship that is emphasized as compassionate and caring despite the cultural barriers that separate them, and in spite of their ten year physical separation. We see Julia fall naturally into Burmese traditions and conventions as she travels across the land in search of answers. Julia’s Westernised upbringing never appears to hold her back throughout her trip; my feeling is that this is sometimes unrealistic, especially when she becomes lost in the world bound by religion and old traditional values.
As a narrator, the persona of Julia is sometimes inconsistent; as the narrative deepens, the voices inside her head once so important are soon forgotten, and despite these being the prime reason for her journey, they rarely return to focus. Of course, it must not go unsaid that a big part of A Well Tempered Heart tells the tale of a mother, Nu Nu, who embarks on a heartbreaking story of her family; Nu Nuhe’s story is arguably is the novel’s most heartfelt and highest point – here moments of emotional turmoil are mesmerising for the reader.
The prose seems to aim to deliver a mystical take on inspiring the reader to acknowledge self-love and the importance self-discovery. Granted, there are far fetched moments that contemporary readers may find a little cheesy, the spiritual context of the tale is important. Also, the detailed description of Burma’s culture doesn’t go unnoticed; in this way Sendker shows us that there are different ways of life that must not be forgotten.
If you are looking for a fairytale ending where everyone lives happily ever after, you will be disappointed for there are, perhaps, many questions that are left unanswered. However, although the novel might thought to be a little predictable, it does live up to what was promised from the start – enabling you to explore and be inspired by the issues of family relations, friendship, and the meaning of love. A Well Tempered Heart proves to be an easy read and, at the best of times, also an inspirational read where, as a reader, you will most likely form a friendship with its narrator as a partner in her journey. And if you are open-minded, it will touch you in more ways than one.