Posted by: Tom Owen | August 24, 2009

The Piano Teacher (2009) – Janice Y.K. Lee, SPS 1990

The Piano Teacher

A love story set in mid-century Hong Kong.  A New York Times bestseller and Editor’s Pick.

Biographical Notes
Janice Lee had planned to write a novel since elementary school.  Despite her dream, her first job out of college was not writing but rather as an assistant to the Elle beauty editor.  Soon after, she worked in the features department, and later at Mirabella.  Lee decided to return to writing fiction and enrolled in an MFA program at Hunter College, mostly writing short stories.

Pregnant and living at the famed artists’ colony Yaddo, she began to formulate the basic storyline.  She took a break from writing to be a mother, moved back to Hong Kong, and had a second child.  Five years after her first notes on the story, and pregnant with twins, Lee decided to finish the novel before she missed the opportunity.  The Piano Teacher was bought two months before the birth of her twins.

Summary
The plot of The Piano Teacher revolves around two intertwining love stories in 1940’s and 50’s Hong Kong.  It explores colonialism, invasion, prejudice, high society, and the conflict of modernity and tradition.  Most importantly, the novel questions if true love has a place in wartime.

In 1941, a dashing young gentleman named Will Truesdale comes to Hong Kong from England.  He finds himself passionately in love with a beautiful heiress named Trudy Liang, who introduces him to her life of glamorous parties and high-priced debaucheries.  The romance is cut short by the sudden invasion of Japanese forces, and the two become separated as quickly as they fell in love.

A decade passes and the war is over.  An English newlywed named Claire Pendleton is hired by a wealthy Chinese family to teach piano to their daughter.  Like Will, she becomes enamored with colonial society.  Her curiosity takes an intriguing turn when she falls in love with the family’s driver – a kind but cryptic man named Will.  Her lover’s secrets, her lies to her husband, and the incessant pull of the socialite’s life traps her into a serious web.

Readers will find themselves spellbound by Lee’s romantic description of a foreign time and place.  The alluring characters and the skillful weaving of their fate lines make The Piano Teacher a captivating read.

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