Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Piano Teacher

I just finished reading The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee. It had been sitting on my shelf for quite some time so it's good to get through it. Lee produced a historically sweeping novel that could have been gut-wrenching but was instead a bit flat.

The story is set in two times: war-torn Hong Kong of 1942-3 and a recovering, haunted Hong Kong of 1953. Will, a British ex-pat, comes to Hong Kong for work and is swept into the best social circles after falling for Trudy, a beautiful Eurasian. The war is barely a backdrop to these privileged people. Once Hong Kong is invaded, Will is shipped off to an internment camp and, though this should be the most intriguing part of the story, Lee instead focuses on Trudy, who struggles to survive in an occupied Hong Kong, forever mourning the loss of her glittery, upper-class dinner parties. With Will contained in the camps and Truly living on the "outside," their romance fizzles.

Ten years later, Claire arrives in Hong Kong with her husband, a British Water Works inspector. She starts teaching piano to a wealthy girl whose parents have a dark history during and after the war. Claire meets Will and they have an affair. Claire begins to find herself amidst the foreigners and foreign climate but she also starts to uncover secrets involving Will and Trudy.

I do not particularly enjoy reading about rich spoiled people, which is what all of these characters are, outside of Claire. Hong Kong seems fascinating but Lee barely scratches the surface to the secrets of this fascinating place. There are other authors who do a much better job at capturing the historical essence of a time and place.

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