Last week our book club discussed A Well-Tempered Heart by Jan-Philipp Sendker. Most of our members raved about the novel and dug deep in our conversation about it. We also had a chance to ask Jan-Philipp some questions about his latest book.
From Left to Write: When we chatted at Book Expo America in May 2012, you mentioned that this story was not what you had planned for Julia, but it had to be told. Can you elaborate?
Jan-Philipp: I never planned to write a sequel. In Germany there are ten year between the two books. Three years ago I was sitting in Kalaw, day dreaming, thinking about Julia. I was wondering what she might be doing. If the first trip to Burma really had changed her life etc. The thought of Julia fascinated me. But I was in the middle of another project and tried to push her aside. It did not work. She kept coming back and only after a few months did I give in and started to listen to her or to the story which came out of me. That was the beginning of A Well-Tempered Heart.
FL2W: Julia is our main character in this series, but U Ba is her rock. He keeps her grounded. Some Westerners might see U Ba as too passive because he accepts what life brings him. What do you hope readers will learn from him?
Jan-Philipp: Honestly, I do not think about what the readers could learn or get out of my books. I just write the stories I need or want to write as good as I can and hope they will touch and move people. Every reader reads the same book in different ways any how.
FL2W: Buddhism and its philosophy plays a big role in both The Art of Hearing Heartbeats and A Well-Tempered Heart. What role does it play in your life?
Jan-Philipp: It does play a role. Again and again I have read a lot of Buddhas teachings, thought about them, trying to live according to many rules he set. I like the idea that we are our own masters, that everybody can become a buddha. I try to remind myself everyday that everything we do and don’t do has consequences we are responsible for. Nobody to blame but ourself. However I would not call myself a buddhist because I do not believe in reincarnation and that is an essential part of his teaching.
From Janin at Wise Ramblings: A Well Tempered Heart feels much darker than its predecessor, especially with the story of the child soliders. Why did you choose to highlight this part of Burma’s history?
Jan-Philipp: I do not want to idealize the country and there are dark sides in its recent history only very few people know about. Those chapters were all very well researched, I talked to young men who suffered through such ordeal. Besides, I think they are an essential part of Thar Thars story. He had to see and experience the darkest side of human behavior in order to be saved. It would not have worked without these dark chapters.
From Robin at The Not-Ever-Still Life: Is there a third book about Julia in the works? Can you share any details?
Jan-Philipp: Yes, there is. Believe it or not: When I started the last chapter of the book I did not know how it would end. Now I am very curious how Julias story and journey continues and the only way to find out is to write it down. But I am very sorry, I can’ give any details away…Stay tuned…
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions!
Jan-Philipp is still on his U.S. book tour so you can meet him in person and ask him questions about A Well-Tempered Heart or his previous, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats! Visit his website for updates on his travels to Burma.
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