THE PIANO TEACHER
BY JANICE Y.K. 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, with terrible consequences for both of them, and for members of their fragile community who will betray each other 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.
As the threads of this spellbinding novel intertwine and converge, a landscape of impossible choices emerges—between love and safety, courage and survival, the present and, above all, the past.
Janice Lee was born in Hong Kong to Korean parents and lived there until she was fifteen, attending the international school. She then left for boarding school in New Hampshire, where she learned the true meaning of winter.
From there, she moved south to Cambridge, MA, where she spent four years at Harvard, developing a taste for excellent coffee, Au Bon Pain pastries, and staying up all night, sometimes indulging in all three at the same time. She also pleased her parents by meeting, on the very first day of school, the man who would become her husband.
After graduating with a degree in English and American Literature and Language, she relocated down to New York where she got her first post-college job
fetching coffee as an assistant to the beauty editor at Elle magazine. After a few months booking massages learning about the cosmetics industry, she heard about a job in the features section and was able to switch departments and return to her true roots, being happily inundated with books on a daily basis.
She then moved to Mirabella magazine where she did more of the same. As much as she enjoyed her job, she eventually came to realize that if she stayed on this career track, she would have no time to write her own book, something that had been a goal of hers since elementary school. Taking a deep breath, she quit to freelance, think about writing, and eventually ended up at the Hunter College MFA Program, which at the time was headed up by the wonderful Chang-Rae Lee. She spent most of her time in grad school writing short stories, some of which got published, but most of which are still languishing in various states of completion on her computer.
She was about to graduate with no definite plans when she received a letter from Yaddo, the artists’ colony, saying that her application for a summer residency had been approved. She also found out she was pregnant with her first child.At Yaddo, she started to organize her thoughts into what would become THE PIANO TEACHER. After she had her first child, she put away the book for a year, adjusting to her new life as a mother. Then she had another child and picked it up again. Then she moved to Hong Kong. When she found out she was pregnant with her third and fourth (twins!) she had all the incentive she needed to finish the book, seeing as how she might not have any time to do anything ever again. Five years after she started it, she had a good first draft and sold THE PIANO TEACHER two months before she gave birth to the twins. When she told her mother she had sold her first novel, her mother asked whether Janice's husband had been the buyer. Really.
Set in Hong Kong during and after World War II, Janice Y. K. Lee's debut novel, THE PIANO TEACHER, hits just the right note and may strike a chord with many who know about this time period. The story of British, newlywed Claire Pendleton, who is with her husband, Martin, in Hong Kong where he has been sent to work for the government, starts out in 1952 as she has taken on a job to teach piano lessons to a young a Chinese girl, Locket Chen. Martin is an older Englishman who is so wrapped up in his work, he seems unaware of his wife's daily activities. Claire's piano student, Locket, lives with her parents, Melody and Victor who seem to have it all. They are young, wealthy, and privileged-all the things Claire wishes she could be. Claire's "accidental" theft from the Chen household seems to start a cycle of less than moral behavior which comes to a peak when she has an affair with the Chen's chauffeur, Will Truesdale.
Will's story alternates with Claire's as the reader discovers that the British driver was greatly damaged during the war. His intoxicating love for a Eurasian girl, Trudy Liang, shares the spotlight of his part of the story as much as the horrors of his experiences during the war do.When the Japanese invasion occurs, and war is now imminent, Will discovers the cruelty of war as well as a new, sometimes almost ugly side to his world and the woman he is in love with. The internment camps for non-Asians are something readers may know of but the shocking truths as told by Lee through Will are very hard to even believe. With this damaged past, Will however, is attracted to Claire who is totally unaware of what all he has been through in the war a decade earlier.
As the two stories of Will and Claire intertwine the reader will see how Janice Lee's extensive research and heart felt writing make the story work. The moralistic fight between right and wrong behaviors and beliefs, along with the strict social structure that people's lives were governed by, bring an intensity and bit of mystery to the story as the reader wonders could such a thing really happen. Could Claire really be that swept up by Will? Could Will learn a lesson from this piano teacher or is it his destiny to instruct her in the real ways of life during those times? THE PIANO TEACHER will take the reader through a story that has characters and a theme as different as the ebony and ivory of the piano keys Claire works with, and yet they somehow work together to make the music be heard and the story told.
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