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