Int’l Best-Selling Novel Set in Myanmar to Be Adapted for Big Screen

By Lwin Mar Htun 26 April 2019

“The Art of Hearing Heartbeats”, the globally popular romance novel set in Myanmar by German author Jan-Philipp Sendker, is to be made into a movie with shooting scheduled to start next year.

Published in 2002, “The Art of Hearing Heartbeats” was the first book by the author. It was the beginning of a series, with the second book, “Well Tempered Heart”, released in 2012.

The novels have proven successful not only in Myanmar but worldwide, being translated into 35 languages including Burmese. They are set in Myanmar’s popular tourist destination, the hill town of Kalaw in Shan State.

The main producer of the film is Danny Krausz of Austria’s DOR Film, with Germany’s Detlev Buck set to direct.

“Currently, they are casting the actors in Thailand, [Myanmar] and other countries. I and other [crew] members went to Kalaw last month for location scouting,” Sendker told The Irrawaddy.

“The Art of Hearing Heartbeats” is a romance mystery novel set in Kalaw featuring Burmese characters. Young lawyer Julia Win seeks to track down her father four years after he disappeared in Myanmar. She meets U Ba, a mysterious man who knows many things about Julia through her father. U Ba tells the story of her father’s first 20 years of life—a mystery love story about which her family knew nothing.

Prior to writing the novel, Sendker traveled to Myanmar many times starting in 1995.

Jan-Philipp Sendker on a visit to Myanmar in 2017 / Jan-Philipp Sendker’s Facebook page

“My many trips to Burma were tremendously important for the book. Burma and its people are not just a backdrop for the stories of my two Burma novels but an important part [of the story],” he said.

He added, “I do not know where and how I get the ideas. I think the ideas get me.”

Kalaw is his favorite city in Myanmar and the novel’s settings are based on actual houses there, but those may not be available for use in the movie as they are so old, he said.

If the locations are not okay to be set up for film shooting, the crew will build a whole new set, he added.

“The locations are based on real places and the characters are also based on the people who I met. I met a lot of people from different places and got a chance to know them. Then, I create my novel’s characters from their stories. Sometimes, I added my imagination and the general mindset which everyone in the world has. That’s why people from different countries can [share] their experiences,” Sendker said at a meet-the-author event on March 27.

He turned his experiences and feelings into words and put them in his book, he said.

“In the novel, there’s a part which describes a woman giving birth. Obviously, I didn’t have that experience but I was present when my wife gave birth to our child. So, I witnessed her pain and can feel it. So, I turned that feeling into words, added to my imaginative feelings and described details,” he explained.

Sendker wrote the script himself. Regarding the difference between writing a novel and script, he said, “It’s different than writing a novel because you do not have the inner monologue and you have to find images and scenes without words. Not easy.”

He added: “I liked the writing very much.”

Shooting will start in the fall of 2020 in New York, Myanmar and Thailand. One of the author’s fans from Myanmar, travel blogger Thiha Lu Lin, said, “After reading his book, I wanted to go to Kalaw immediately and find the house from the novel, and I did. It was there, and that feeling is special; I don’t know why. He can describe Kalaw in detail and he knew that city very well. I can’t wait to see my favorite novel as a film.”

“The Art of Hearing Heartbeats” has a special place in Sendker’s own heart. He said, “Most importantly, it was my first novel… and I had been dreaming about writing a novel for 20 years.”

“With that book my dream came true,” he added.