Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Review: The Piano Teacher by Janice Y K Lee

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2009

Sometimes the end of a love affair is only the beginning...

It is 1952 and and newlywed Claire Pendleton has just arrived in Hong Kong with her civil servant husband, Martin. Unsophisticated and unawakened ...
" She had accepted Martin's proposal to escape the dark interior of her house, her bitter mother railing against everything, getting worse, it seemed with advancing age, and an uninspiring job as a filing girl in an insurance company."
....she is totally unprepared for the realities of marriage and life in a foreign country.  She takes a position as piano teacher to Locket Chen, the daughter of wealthy socialite Chinese parents and soon becomes intrigued by the family's enigmatic English driver, Will Truesdale.
This fascination becomes an affair but it is one interwoven with flashbacks to the early 1940's, during Hong Kong's swift fall to the Japanese, and glimpses of another woman - Trudy Liang - a beautiful Eurasian with secrets of her own.

Although the story begins and ends with Claire it is the relationship between Will and Trudy that makes the most compelling reading. As a Eurasian Trudy is not truly accepted by either culture - she's a complex character who is both appealing and repelling and the difficulties that face her and Will and the choices they have to make have sad consequences when they're separated during the Japanese occupation.

Reading about the privileged lifestyle of the British community, the idleness, gossip and social rounds made possible by Chinese cooks, maids, nannies and gardeners has an added poignancy because the reader knows it is soon to end. The horrors of internment , the cruelty and deprivations suffered , the fight for survival both inside and outside the prison are written about with honesty without being overly graphic.

It's a beautifully written story with simple but elegant prose that is a real pleasure to read. A book that turned out to be so much more than I anticipated. I recommend.

What's In A Name Challenge 3


  1. Glad you enjoyed this one! I have wanted to read it for awhile now.

  2. I really liked this book. Wouldn't it make a great movie?

  3. Lola - I'm sure you'd enjoy it.

    Mary - I really liked it too and I agree - would make a fantastic movie.

  4. I must give it another chance, I sadly gave up on it

  5. I liked this one too! Such an interested story to read.

    I don't recall seeing that cover for it before though.

  6. I really enjoyed this one, too. Trudy was a fantastic character--you're right, I was both attracted to and repelled by her. And it was interesting to read about a part of history I didn't know anything about.