German author visits area, discusses his craft

Author Jan-Phillip Sendker

BY Molly Congdon
Gazette Reporter
CLIFTON PARK — On April 16, people gathered at Gowana Middle School to hear German author Jan-Phillip Sendker discuss his novel “The Art of Hearing Heartbeats,” which was selected for this year’s Two Towns One Book program in Clifton Park and Halfmoon.

His latest book, “Whispering Shadows,” had been released just two days earlier, but Sendker traveled to Clifton Park because his book had been chosen.

Before the event, he talked to Your Clifton Park about how he selected the setting of Burma, his impressive show-and-tell skills and that above all his greatest inspiration is life itself:

Q: What inspired you to write “The Art of Hearing Heartbeats?”
A: I used to be a journalist and I worked for a magazine called Stern in Germany and I was the Asia correspondent and I lived in a space in Hong Kong from 1995 to 1999. I went to Burma in May 1995. It was an overwhelming experience because Burma was so different. I’ve been to many countries but never seen anything like that. Totally remote, totally not participating in world life; I came there and there weren’t even cars on the streets. I met so many great people, so spiritual and inspiring. I really fell in love with Burma and I decided on that for the setting of my novel.

The original idea of hearing heartbeats came from my son, who was 21⁄2 years old at the time. We would play this game called listening to David’s heartbeat because one day we were playing catch on the lawn and he rested his head on my chest and said, ‘Daddy I hear a noise,’ and I said yes that’s my heart beating. That gave me the idea to say, Hey, how would it be if somebody could hear heartbeats from afar; I imagined this blind boy and that’s how it all started.

Q: What message were you trying to get across to readers?
A: I don’t have a message for the reader because you will read the book differently than your friends or colleagues. But if I had to say a message it would be that love is the strongest cause that can overcome anything; it’s universal message and that’s probably why the book is so popular in so many different countries, people can relate to it.

Q: Were you excited about speaking at Gowana?
A: I love to take questions because usually questions in America are very interesting and funny. When I’m in Germany and I ask if anyone has any questions no one raises their hand, but if you have 10 Americans in the audience they raise 15 hands. I appreciate that.

Q: Have you always lived in Germany?
A: Yes I grew up in Hamburg, Germany.

Q: Tell me about your latest book “Whispering Shadows.”
A: It’s the first book in a series set in Chine that’s very dear to me. I have a German-American character living in China for 30 years; he’s an expert who’s lost his son to leukemia and is withdrawn from the world. In this trilogy, he is finding his way back into life. I go deep into Chinese society today and you learn a lot about its past.

Q: When did you discover your passion to write?
A: I was a very bad student. In America I think you call it show and tell; that was my favorite subject. I came with something and I told stories, I would pretend that they were true, but really I made them all up. No other kid wanted to show and tell anything, they just wanted me to do it. I always wanted to be a writer. I read a lot and I loved to discover new worlds through these books. When I graduation from high school, my father asked me what I wanted to study now and I said, “I want to write books.”

And he said, “About what?”

Q: What is your writing style?
A: It’s more international; I lived abroad for so many years. I like to move my readers, entertain them and if I make them think, my mission is accomplished.

Q: Who is your greatest inspiration?
A: I owe a lot to my wife who reads everything I write, my mom, my sister. . . . In general maybe it’s because I’m such a dreamer, I find life very inspirational. You can put me in a coffee shop and I start observing people and then I start to make things up, I give them a life, dreams and aspirations.