‘The Piano Teacher’ by Janice Y.K. Lee

‘It begins like that. Her lilting laughter at a consular party. A wet dress and a handkerchief hastily proffered. She is a sleek greyhound among the others – plump, braying woman of a certain class.’

Living forward after the World War II is not easy, it’s a sore and a terrible subject for someone. It’s even worse if you regret deeply something you did during the war. The Piano Teacher is all about the aftermath of the war of a man, who can’t live forward without being remembered by the war.

‘It started as an accident.’

The novel begins with the newlywed Claire Pendleton and her husband Martin arriving in Hong Kong in 1952, not long after the war. Young and naïve, along with her prejudices, Claire is happy to leave her old boring life in England. Not long after she is hired as a piano teacher by  a Chinese family, the Chens. She gives piano lessons to Locket, a ten year old girl, daughter of the wealthy Victor and Melody Chen. Soon she meets Will Truesdale at a party, the mysterious handsome man around forty with a cane and a limp. They fall quickly in an astounding affair, but Will’s past has an influence on their affair. Claire discovers slowly the painful past of Will, but it seems that he is not the only guilty one.
Along the way, Lee unravels leisurely the past; the romance between the Englishman Will Truesdale and the famous Eurasian Trudy Liang. Nothing could ever come between them but this all changes due the invasion of the Japan. They are forced to separate and live in excruciating situations.

Lee’s novel may be a lot of things, but disappointment isn’t one of them. The novel, divided in three parts, has two storylines. Those two, changing between the chapters to the past and the future, narrates together one story. It’s not an ordinary love story. Both relationships are different and one of these is not even based on love, or at least not for Will. He can’t forget the war and war, of course, has always been cruel and that is clear in this novel. The descriptions of the Japanese invaders are pretty brutal, clearly showing that even war can change people. She writes it so well, her writing style, simple yet with so many meanings, expresses the storyline clearly. Even though the novel starts in the beginning a bit uneventful, she slowly unravels the lies and the secrets and the consequences of it, you keep reading to find out what happened to Trudy and Will.

Janice Y.K. Lee, a former literary editor at Elle magazine, knows Hong Kong very well. Since she was born in Hong Kong to Korean parents. Even though she tells she didn’t really fit in Hong Kong. “To be a local in Hong Kong, you have to be a local Chinese or English and I was neither of those things,” she says. Growing up in Hong Kong, she went to an international and a boarding school. Later, she moved to America and graduated from Harvard with a degree in English and American Literature and Language. Then she moved back to Hong Kong and is now a mother of four. The bestseller The Piano Teacher is her debut novel, narrating two extraordinary storylines, taking the readers back to the past and the future. Along the way, you’ll find love, war and regret.

‘He doesn’t want to meet her – he is suspicious of her kind, all chiffon and champagne, nothing underneath, but she has knocked his drink over her silk shift (‘There I go again,’ she says. I’m the clumsiest person in all Hong Kong’), she then commandeers him to escort her to the bathroom where she dabs at herself while peppering him with questions.’

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