The phone rings.
“This is Jan-Philipp calling from Germany,” says a voice on the other end of the line. “I have a flat rate to the US, so don’t worry …”
Jan-Philipp is more formally known as Jan-Philipp Sendker, the internationally bestselling author of The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, which was first published in America in 2011—a decade after its release in Germany. Though currently residing in Berlin with his family, Sendker will soon be packing his bags and departing for the United States—and a return visit to Mystic’s Bank Square Books.
“I like book touring because writing is such a lonely process. It’s me and my characters,” says Sendker, a former journalist who has made the voyage abroad on three prior promotional jaunts—and who can count Italy, Serbia, and Israel among his previous destinations. “When I’m out on tour, it’s me, my characters, and the readers and the booksellers. I like that experience very much. When you meet people who care about books, usually they are quite interesting and quite wonderful …”
Of course, meeting readers can also be a daunting prospect—particularly when they’ve spent ten years living with your characters and anticipating a sequel that you didn’t necessarily expect to write.
“I was in Burma about three years ago sitting in a tea house and all of a sudden I kept thinking about Julia from the first novel,” recalls Sendker of the young woman who traveled from New York to the village in hopes of resolving her father’s disappearance. “And I thought: what might she be doing now, almost ten years later? She had entered my mind and didn’t want to leave …”
The answer(s) to that question can be found in Sendker’s new book, A Well-Tempered Heart (Other Press, $15.95), which revisits Julia Win, a successful Manhattan lawyer who finds herself at a personal crossroads. When a female voice pops into her head and begins asking questions that will not be denied, Julia is compelled to take a transformative journey.
“The book is about listening to your intuition,” explains the author. “I always hear a voice. It’s not a psychotic problem (laughs), but we argue sometimes with our own selves. We hear this voice telling us, ‘Don’t eat another piece of cake,’ or whatever. This was her [Julia’s] voice inside me telling me, ‘Here, this is the story. You listen to me …’”
Sendker found himself so taken by Julia’s voice that he forgot about the audience for which he was writing.
“It took me a year and a half, and I was so into the book that I didn’t really think of any reader expectations,” admits Sendker. “But after I finished it and it was about to come out in Germany I got so anxious and so nervous. The first [book] had sold something like 700,000 copies in Germany, and I thought, ‘Oh, my God … oh, my God … the expectations! They will all be disappointed because the second book is different than the first one. It’s less fairytale-like, it’s a little darker.’”
Enter the loving and supportive wife.
“She told me, ‘Go on, sit down and read the book again, and if it’s the book you wanted to write then it’s fine, and everything else will be taken care of.’”
“And that’s what I did,” recalls Sendker. “I sat down for two days and I read the book again. I was absolutely relieved afterwards because I knew that this was the book I wanted to write and that everything else was not in my hands.”
Fortunately, his native audience also found that he had written a book that they wanted to read—something Sendker hopes will be repeated in America.
“What happened in Germany was fantastic,” the author enthuses. “They accept that it’s different, that it’s not just a repetition of the first one. They love it because it’s equally moving and inspirational, which is what I wanted to accomplish, really.”
For all their differences, Sendker believes that readers from around the globe respond to certain themes, as was evident in the first book’s reception.
“It’s a universal story; it’s about unconditional love and unconditional trust” he explains. “This is something wonderful I observe as a writer—that it doesn’t matter what language you speak, which God or religion you believe in, what color your skin is …”
And while some of those themes are repeated in the new book, Sendker also wanted to explore another condition of the heart: the difficult art of forgiving.
“It can be so liberating,” he philosophizes. “Unless we forgive, we will be prisoners …”
It’s the journey itself that is the road to freedom, however, and Sendker is always willing to travel that road, regardless of whether or not he knows the ultimate destination.
“All the main characters in my books are on journeys,” Sendker notes. “I like traveling because if you do it with an open mind it’s like a journey. You constantly have to question yourself, and that’s what my characters do. They evolve and they discover new things inside of themselves. I find that a fascinating process, and that’s why I write about it.”
“Mainly what I learned as a journalist was to listen and to observe … not to judge,” he offers in summation. “I want to understand.”
With thanks to Jan-Philipp Sendker for his generosity of time and thought and to Jessica Greer, Publicity Director at Other Press, for helping to facilitate this interview.
The author will appear at Bank Square Books on Wednesday, January 29th, from 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm. The cost is $15.95 per person and includes a signed paperback copy of the book and a catered lunch. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the store at 860-536-3795. BSB is located at 53 W. Main Street in Mystic.