A Well-Tempered Heart, the follow-up to The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, is not a book I planned to write. It is a book that wanted to be written.
The first novel was already a few years old when I was sitting in a teahouse in Kalaw, doing research for the Heartbeats movie script. I was sipping my tea and daydreaming. Suddenly I began to think about Julia, and what might have happened to her since her search for her father—how the trip to Burma, and everything she had learned there, had changed her life. The more I thought about Julia, the closer I felt to her. I could not stop thinking about her.
I went back to Germany and tried to push her away, because I was planning to write another novel set in China; the contract had been signed. But Julia refused to disappear. Just the opposite: she became an obsession. After a few weeks I gave in, and started to listen to what she wanted to tell me. That was the beginning of A Well-Tempered Heart.
This book is about Julia. It is about her journey into a very different culture and her search for herself. It asks questions about what matters most to us in life: can a troubled spirit transform into a serene one? A sorrowful spirit into a joyful one? Or must we always remain who we are? At its heart, it is about the difficult art of forgiveness.
A Well-Tempered Heart came out in Germany a year and a half ago, and shortly before its publication I started to get nervous—anxious, even. How would readers respond? Would they be disappointed? How would I be able to meet expectations after the wonderful success of the first book? I can only fail, I thought to myself. It got to a point where I became so nervous that my wife finally told me to sit down. “Read your book,” she said, “and tell me if that is the book you wanted to write. If so, don’t worry about the rest.”
She was right. I re-read the book and felt much better. It was the book I wanted, I needed to write. Whether the readers would like it or not was out of my hands.
Luckily, they do. The passionate readers of The Art of Hearing Heartbeats in Germany have reassured me that even though the sequel is very different, it is equally moving and inspirational. I certainly hope you will agree.