The Piano Teacher is complicated, eloquent, haunting and thought provoking. Not one of the characters is particularly sympathetic, never mind likable. The story jumps between decades with wild abandon. The plot is violent and explores the highly disturbing, damaging nature of war and its aftermath. It is the story of love and ultimate betrayal.
If that sounds negative, than consider my other observations. Janice Lee's portrayal of Hong Kong are so vivid you can almost smell and hear the market place. The description of life in Colonies is pitch perfect; the gossip, the intrigue and the boredom. The language is eloquent. The plot is carefully constructed. The character development is extraordinary.
The story presents two snapshots of life in Hong Kong. The snapshots are ten years apart. Life before the war life is circumscribed by social status and ritual. The Europeans, especially the English have created their own alternative universe right on the top of Victoria Peak.
Once the war is over the survivors (of both the war and the occupation) are deeply scarred. They emerge forever changed by the circumstances of incarceration. starvation and torture. And yet, apparently nothing much has changed. Life has more or less picked up exactly where it left off. The colony is back in business and the rigid social structures and rituals have survived.
Claire Pendleton, the piano teacher, provides a stark contrast between the cynicism of the old and the naivety of the new. In the end, she effectively provides a focus and a rather harrowing catharsis.
This book is a real hybrid; part historical fiction, part romance and part mystery. I suspect you will either love or hate it. I, personally, loved it.
In the sweeping tradition of The English Patient, a gripping tale of love and betrayal set in war-torn Hong Kong
In 1942, Will Truesdale, an Englishman newly arrived in Hong Kong, falls headlong into a passionate relationship with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite. But their love affair is soon threatened by the invasion of the Japanese as World War II overwhelms their part of the world. Will is sent to an internment camp, where he and other foreigners struggle daily for survival. Meanwhile, Trudy remains outside, forced to form dangerous alliances with the Japanese in particular, the malevolent head of the gendarmerie, whose desperate attempts to locate a priceless collection of Chinese art lead to a chain of terrible betrayals.
Ten years later, Claire Pendleton comes to Hong Kong and is hired by the wealthy Chen family as their daughter's piano teacher. A provincial English newlywed, Claire is seduced by the heady social life of the expatriate community. At one of its elegant cocktail parties, she meets Will, to whom she is instantly attracted¿but as their affair intensifies, Claire discovers that Will's enigmatic persona hides a devastating past. As she begins to understand the true nature of the world she has entered, and long-buried secrets start to emerge, Claire learns that sometimes the price of survival is love.