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The Piano Teacher: A Novel (2009)

by Janice Y. K. Lee

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1,6561054,350 (3.33)128
Member:Kanellio
Title:The Piano Teacher: A Novel
Authors:Janice Y. K. Lee
Info:Viking Adult (no date), Hardcover, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee (2009)

  1. 10
    Fragrant Harbour by John Lanchester (sungene)
    sungene: Same setting, similar plot and structure (two time periods), thoroughly researched, a love song to Hong Kong, deeply felt characters.
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Showing 1-5 of 100 (next | show all)
It took me a while to get into this book, but I felt in the last half the narrative really improved and become much more compelling (the onset of WWII may have helped). I enjoyed seeing how the characters' lives were revealed to be ever more intertwined, although I was disappointed with some of the ambiguity of a few characters' fates. This is a good read, and one I would certainly recommend to someone interested in China of this period. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | Jan 20, 2016 |
Audio book narrated by Orlagh Cassidy
3.5***

Summary info from the dust jacket: 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, with terrible consequences for both of them and for members of their fragile community, who will betray one another in the darkest days of the war.
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 colony’s heady social life. She soon begins an affair … only to discover that her lover’s enigmatic demeanor hides a devastating past.

My reactions/observations
I’ll admit that I was expecting a lighter chick-lit type of historical romance, but I was pleasantly surprised by the added depth to this story. Once again I found myself reading a book with dual time lines, and alternating stories; the book begins with Claire’s arrival in Hong Kong in 1952, then transitions to January 1941 where we are introduced to Trudy. For several chapters the timeline alternates, then we spend a considerable amount of time in WW2 as the Japanese take control of Hong Kong, evacuating non-Chinese residents to “safe havens” which are really POW camps. Part three returns us to Claire’s story as she begins to piece together what really happened and how the people she has met were connected.

I seem to be reading quite a few novels lately that have dual timelines, which is a difficult writing device to handle well. Lee does a pretty good job, especially for a debut novel. Leading each chapter with a date certainly helps the reader keep the timelines straight. It does take several chapters before we make the first connection between the two stories, but I was quickly caught up in these interwoven tales of love, loss, secrecy and betrayal. Claire reminds me of The Painted Veil’s Kitty Fane, though she isn’t drawn quite so fully as Maugham’s character. Will Truesdale is almost as puzzling to me as he is to Claire, but I rather like that Lee left the reader to discover him rather than spell everything out. I certainly didn’t see the revelation towards the end coming. The writing is evocative of time and place; I’ve visited Hong Kong several times (while it was still a British Colony), and can easily picture the settings, the oppressive heat and humidity, and the “aliveness” of the markets. This is Lee’s debut, and I would certainly read another novel by her.

Orlagh Cassidy does a fine job of narrating the audio version. Her pacing is good, and I had no trouble keeping the characters or the timelines straight.
( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
Didn't know what I would think of this but I quite enjoyed it. Glimpses of HK during and after WW2 the most interesting aspects of this. Didn't particularly care for the main characters. An easy read. ( )
  aine.fin | Feb 20, 2015 |
This book really isn't my style - its slow, ponderous, full of unlikeable people. The part I found most interesting was the description of the refugee camp because I hadn't realized that Hong Kong was invaded by the Japanese. I found the the motives of the various characters weren't explained. I found Claire, the main character to be the worst of them all - she suddenly starts stealing from her employer, and the book doesn't really explain why. As for her romance with Will Truevale (or something), Will is so bland. He doesn't really have much of a personality. As for Trudy, she is actually the one character I kind of liked - but, again, it felt like she was written in grayscale, rather than in color. I didn't like this book. But, its I wouldn't have read it except that it was chosen by my book club. ( )
  TheDivineOomba | Jan 28, 2015 |
(35) This was quite easy reading but a bit disappointing truth be told. Claire Pendleton moves to 1950's Hong Kong with her new husband she barely knows and ends up having an affair with a British ex-pat who is a chauffeur for the rich Chinese family for which Claire is the titular 'piano teacher' for the 10--year old daughter. Will, her paramour, has his own history in Hong Kong - a love affair with Eurasian socialite Trudy Liang. We toggle between the details of both affairs separated by a decade or so and try and figure out what happened to Trudy. Frankly, I never really knew but never really cared.

The novel was a bit scattered as to what it was trying to be about. Colonialization, a love story, the mystery of the 'Crown Collection,' the ravages of War. For me it really fell off when the Japanese invaded and Will went into the interment camp. I just did not get what was happening between he and Trudy. I did not get how Claire was a "pawn" in exposing deep secrets about the past - as many formal plot synopses mentioned. I won't spoil by hazarding guesses here in this review - but I am really just not clear on what happened and am fairly exasperated that it wasn't written better because it had potential.

Anyway, not bad but I believe the author tried to be too elliptical about the goings on and really diluted the dramatic tension with these narrative choices. I am not sure I would read her again and while its a decent airplane or vacation read - I hesitate to recommend due to the frustration with the last third or so. ( )
  jhowell | Dec 23, 2014 |
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Book description
In the sweeping tradition of "The English Patient" comes this gripping tale set in war-torn Hong Kong.

Rich with intrigue, romance, and betrayal, this wonderfully written, utterly captivating novel dazzles . . .--Chang-rae Lee.

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.
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Hired by the wealthy Chen family as a piano instructor, Claire Pendleton is seduced by the social life of Hong Kong's expatriate community and begins an affair with Will Truesdale, an enigmatic Englishman with a devastating past.

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