Book Review: The Piano Teacher – Janice Y. K. Lee

Title: The Piano Teacher: A Novel
Author: Janice Y. K. Lee
ISBN: 9780143116530
Pages: 352
Release Date: January 13, 2009
Publisher: Penguin
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Source: Curled Up With a Good Book
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

Martin and Claire Pendleton have arrived in Hong Kong in 1952.  Though they are newlyweds, Claire is not in love with Martin.  His proposal was an escape from the unhappy life she led, and so she accepted.

Once in Hong Kong, Claire becomes the piano teacher for Locket, the daughter of Victor and Melody Chen.  There she meets their driver, Will Truesdale, a handsome Brit with a mysterious past.  Will and Claire embark on a tempestuous affair, but there are a lot of elements of the society that Claire has entered into that she can’t comprehend without understanding what happened in Hong Kong during World War II.

Review:

The Piano Teacher is a beautiful piece of literary fiction that is haunting.  Lee’s writing is very poetic.  Her radiant words mellow the harsh realities she portrays in this novel.  After all, there were a lot of atrocities committed during World War II, and Lee doesn’t shy away from describing them to the reader.  However, her gorgeous prose helps cloak the horror of what the reader is seeing, making it easier to deal with.

Claire is an interesting main character, though she is lost in the quagmire of Hong Kong society.  She is aware that there is a lot of mystery about Will’s past, but isn’t quite sure what happened.  All she knows is that he’s been unable to move on, that in some ways he still lives during those awful days of World War II.  She finds herself at the center of what’s happening and doesn’t quite know how to deal with it.

The mysteries in The Piano Teacher really aren’t at the center of the novel; instead, it’s the brutality of World War II and the horrors of what happened to the people.  As a result, the novel moves at a very slow pace.  This isn’t a book to be read quickly; Lee’s prose and story are to be savored.

Generally, the reader is held at an arm’s length from the characters in The Piano Teacher.  Claire is the only person the reader really gets to know, and even then, there isn’t a lot of emotional involvement with her.  Though this is a novel about people, the reader doesn’t establish a real connection with any of the characters.  As a result, it sometimes feels as if there is something missing from this novel, since there is a sense of detachment.

The Piano Teacher was a beautifully written historical novel about Hong Kong, and I recommend it to anyone interested in historical literary fiction.  Lee’s beautiful writing alone is worth picking up this book for, and as long as you’re in the mood for a languorous read, you will enjoy this book.

Comments

  1. I have this book on my shelf so I am so glad to see you liked it! The cover is so beautiful to me so I couldn’t help but pick it up!

  2. I have this book on my shelf so I am so glad to see you liked it! The cover is so beautiful to me so I couldn’t help but pick it up!

  3. I have been going back and forth on this book, but it keeps catching my eye because the cover is so beautiful. I think I am finally going to have to pick it up. Thanks for the great review.

  4. I have been going back and forth on this book, but it keeps catching my eye because the cover is so beautiful. I think I am finally going to have to pick it up. Thanks for the great review.

  5. I have a copy of this book here at home, but it just hasn’t been the right moment to pick it up. I would have to be in the right mood for it I think. The cover is wonderful and that is what caught my eye first. I’m such a cover junkie. I appreciate your honest appraisal of it.

  6. I have a copy of this book here at home, but it just hasn’t been the right moment to pick it up. I would have to be in the right mood for it I think. The cover is wonderful and that is what caught my eye first. I’m such a cover junkie. I appreciate your honest appraisal of it.

  7. bermudaonion says:

    This sounds so good. I love books set during World War II for some odd reason.

  8. bermudaonion says:

    This sounds so good. I love books set during World War II for some odd reason.

  9. Oh, I’ve had this book for months now. Glad to know it’s good. Sounds like a perfect read for sitting on the deck this summe

  10. Oh, I’ve had this book for months now. Glad to know it’s good. Sounds like a perfect read for sitting on the deck this summe

  11. I just read this book last weekend and loved it. Spot on review, Ms. Swapna!

  12. I just read this book last weekend and loved it. Spot on review, Ms. Swapna!

  13. I really liked this one, too. I really thought Trudy was a great characte

  14. I really liked this one, too. I really thought Trudy was a great characte

  15. Like a few of the previous comments, I’ve been on the fence with this one. I like WWII novels, but I’ve also heard about the disconnect with the characters. A friend of mine is listening to this on audio…I’ll see what she says about that. The slower books seem to work better on audio for me.

  16. Like a few of the previous comments, I’ve been on the fence with this one. I like WWII novels, but I’ve also heard about the disconnect with the characters. A friend of mine is listening to this on audio…I’ll see what she says about that. The slower books seem to work better on audio for me.

  17. My mother-in-law has this and I see it every time we’re at their house, so I’ve been very interested in it. Thanks for the review!

  18. My mother-in-law has this and I see it every time we’re at their house, so I’ve been very interested in it. Thanks for the review!

  19. I’ve seen a lot around about this book, but for some reason, I am just not compelled to pick it up. I am not sure if it’s the WWII thing or the Hong Kong thing or the “languorous read” thing, but something just doesn’t click for me. Glad you enjoyed it, though- sometimes it’s so nice just to enjoy the language an author employs 🙂

  20. I’ve seen a lot around about this book, but for some reason, I am just not compelled to pick it up. I am not sure if it’s the WWII thing or the Hong Kong thing or the “languorous read” thing, but something just doesn’t click for me. Glad you enjoyed it, though- sometimes it’s so nice just to enjoy the language an author employs 🙂

  21. This sounds right up my alley. I’ll have to get my hands on a copy. I hope it’s okay for me to link to your review on the WWII book reviews page on War Through the Generations.

    –Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

  22. This sounds right up my alley. I’ll have to get my hands on a copy. I hope it’s okay for me to link to your review on the WWII book reviews page on War Through the Generations.

    –Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

  23. Anna – You know it’s fine!! 🙂

  24. Anna – You know it’s fine!! 🙂

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