Janice Y.K. Lee
Fiction 2009 | 328 pages
It is interesting to me that The Piano Teacher has such a low rating on Goodreads, 3.4. I read numerous reviews, at all levels of rating. In general, I would say that the naysayers do not like the characters, or the character development. Almost everyone found the 1940's story line, Hong Kong in WWII, enlightening and interesting ... more so than the actual piano teacher story set in the 1950’s.
Personally, I found the quirkiness of the characters quite delightful. I liked that Claire (the piano teacher) stole items, and that her behavior was never explained. I like that bold, brash, loud Trudy was appreciated and loved by everyone, even with her often undesirable personality. And I found Will's experience in the internment camp to be riveting (even though he does not have the most riveting personality!)
Okay, so, I have not yet explained the plot!
Claire Pendelton is a recent arrival in Hong Kong from England, in 1951, along with her husband Martin. Melody Chen wants her daughter to learn the piano, so she hires Claire to be her teacher, and Claire becomes entangled with the Hong Kong rich. The Piano Teacher explores how lives in Hong Kong in the 1940’s were affected by the Japanese invasion of the British colony during the war, and the fallout in the early 1950’s. The Piano Teacher alternates between Will (British) and Trudy (Eurasian; Portuguese, Chinese mix) in the year 1941 before the start of the war, and Claire's story eleven years later, in 1952. The story weaves back and forth between these two time periods, in chapters.
Some say it is mis-titled, and I understand that. The more riveting and powerful story is the 1940’s tale about the impact of WWII in Hong Kong. This history is certainly something I had no knowledge of. It is such a good WWII book not addressing the Holocaust and not told from European soil. Hong Kong is invaded by the (then) =terrorist, fascist Japanese; raping, pillaging, living where and how they choose to live, while the Hong Kong rich are forced into jails with contaminated water, little to eat, and many secrets. Trudy and Will are lovers at this time, and Will is taken to an internment camp, while Trudy stays on the outside, currying favors with people who have power. Some of the minor characters confuse me a bit, but I printed a list of characters to help me with them.
I recommend this book! (Thank you, Jan for suggesting to for book club!) It will open your eyes, and keep you entertained all at once.
Thank you, Andrea, for recommending this book. I will get it for my dear friend Margaret, Bend’s best piano teacher and also an avid reader…and then I’ll read too!