Julia Win’s father is Burmese, and her mother is American. One morning, her father leaves for an ordinary business trip and never returns. When Julia receives a package from her mother with some of her father’s belongings, she also finds a love letter to a woman named Mi Mi, and discovers why her mother feels betrayed by her father. She decides to search for him and sets out for Burma (Myanmar), to find him. While sitting in a tea house in her father’s village, she is approached by a man named U Ba. Although she is skeptical when he tells her he knows her father, she allows him to begin to tell her a tale about him. This is that story.
The Burmese townspeople are very superstitious and they consult astrologers about how to conduct their lives. Her father, Tin Win, was not born on an auspicious day of the week. The astrologer told his parents that he would bring them sorrow; he neglected to tell them that he also had the capacity to bring them the gift of love. When Tin Win’s father is killed in an accident, his mother abandons him. Just a child, he is rescued by a kind childless widow, Su Kyi, who finds him alone, unable to eat, waiting day after day for his mother’s return.
When at age 10, he suddenly goes blind, Su Kyi enrolls him in a monastery school where she hopes he will thrive and learn to function in a sightless world. He is very successful there and is a model student. Without sight, he suddenly has other heightened senses, and he discovers that his sense of hearing is acute. Shortly afterward, while attempting to walk on his own, he stumbles and almost steps on someone. He discovers Mi Mi crawling on the ground. She is a young woman who is unable to walk and he is unable to see. She becomes his eyes and he becomes her legs.
After four years at the monastery, an uncle ordered him to go to Rangoon. A superstitious man, he had consulted an astrologer who had informed him that his life and business would not improve unless he did a long-term, good deed for a family member. It is because of this that he decides to try and help Tin Win. He takes him to an eye specialist to try and correct his eyesight. When his eyesight is restored, he offers him a fine education. When his studies are completed, unable to return to Mi Mi and unwilling to remain beholden to his uncle, he goes willingly to America to continue his education
He is unaware that his uncle has betrayed him. His letters to Mi Mi have never been mailed and hers to him have been hidden. However, he never stops loving her nor does she stop loving him. Mi Mi remains in his heart as he remains in hers. They are bound by their heartbeats and never turn against each other. Their love remains intact even though, once in America, he has a new life. He marries and has a daughter, Julia. Eventually U Ba reveals the remaining details of the friendship and growing romantic relationship between Mi Mi and Tin Win and his disappearance is explained.
Both Mi Mi and Tin Win had special gifts. Mi Mi’s singing provides well-being to those who hear her. Tin Win could tell the nature of people through their heartbeats. He did not need sight to understand the world around him because Mi Mi would guide him. Mi Mi did not need legs to travel about; she could travel on Tin’s back or she could crawl in what everyone described as an unusually graceful and beautiful fashion.
The story is about a deep love that transcends time and distance. It is about love’s different faces and values. It is about living life with imperfections and accepting the burdens and afflictions bestowed upon one's person with grace. Essentially, the main characters teach the reader to listen to the world around them, to observe the various faces of love and kindness, and to accept others without undue judgment. It is about relationships. It is about reactions to loss and abandonment. In various ways, Mi Mi and Tin Win were abandoned, as were Julia and her mother.
The setting of the book is pastoral. The prose is often poetic, but it is also, occasionally, too lyrical and some descriptions go on for a bit too long. Magic realism is employed as a device which makes the story feel mystical or supernatural, at times, and it requires the suspension of disbelief. Sometimes the narrative feels elusive and tedious, but it could be that the book is better suited to a hard copy than an audio book. Although the reader was excellent, the foreign names were not familiar to me and were difficult to understand. Despite some shortcomings, it is a tenderhearted story about an undying love.