Mar 13, 2009

Book Review: The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

The Piano Teacher
Imagine my surprise, and delight, at the end of reading The Piano Teacher to find that the author Janice Y.K. Lee had also read one of my favorite books, a memoir/partial autobiography by the New Yorker correspondent Emily Hahn, printed in 1944, China to Me.

Hahn's book, about Shanghai during the late 1930s and then Hong Kong after the Japanese took over Shanghai, got me interested in that period of Chinese history, and I looked for other books set in that period.

One of them was Kazuo Ishiguro's fifth novel, When We Were Orphans, about a young English boy and a Japanese boy who both lived in Shanghai and were playmates, and what happened to them later during the Sino-Japanese war.

But let's get back to The Piano Teacher, a very enjoyable historical fiction set in the early 1940s and in the 1950s in Hong Kong.

Janice Lee's story deals with an English woman, Chaire Pendleton, who becomes a piano teacher for the daugher of a wealthy Chinese couple in Hong Kong, in the 1950s. While there, she discovers the story of the love affair between an Englishman and an Eurasian woman ten years earlier, a love that was doomed when the Japanese occupied the island and Chinese and Europeans alike had to struggle for survival at all costs.

That ill fated love story affects Claire's own love affair with an Englishman, but leaves her inexplicably bound to China.

I heartily recommend the novel and all the other books I mentioned that deal with that period of time in China's history. I first discovered Emily Hahn's book by chance at a used book sale at our local library. What a find! And here's Lee's The Piano Teacher: A Novel at the same library.


Mark David said...

Wow, I'm excited about this book. I first learned about it a couple weeks ago from a GoodReads newsletter. Sounds like an engrossing novel.

About Kazuo Ishiguro, I heard he's really great. I'll be looking for his book Never Let Me Go one of these days. I've just added it to my End of The World II Challenge list.

Harvee said...

Yes, the two love stories in the book overlap, thought 10 years apart, but the wartime story is really amazing, and influenced a lot by Hahn's memoir, I think.

I didn't read Ishiguro's Remains of the Day, but saw the movie. I thought it was a really good commentary on old English manners. Good luck with the Challenge!

Alice said...

Hi Harvee, thanks for leading me to your blog! I've read so much good things about this book. Great review! :)

Alice Teh

Harvee said...

Thanks for your comment, Alice. I do wonder how people in Asia react to the novel. I know it's well received over here in the West.

Anonymous said...

I loved your blog. Thank you.

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