Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tangled Webs

'The Piano Teacher'
By Janice Y. K. Lee

Format: Paperback
Published: Penguin; 2009
Pages: 352

Synopsis: This cinematic tale of two love affairs in mid-century Hong Kong shows colonial pretensions tainted by wartime truths. Will Truesdale, a rootless, handsome Briton, arrives in the colony in 1941, and is swept up by Trudy Liang, the blithe and glamorous daughter of a Shanghai millionaire and a Portuguese beauty. They quickly become inseparable, their days spent in a whirl of parties and champagne, but when the Japanese invade, Will is interned and Trudy resorts to increasingly Faustian methods to survive. After the war, Claire Pendleton, the naive wife of a British civil servant, arrives. She begins giving piano lessons to the daughter of a rich Chinese couple, and falls in love with their wounded and inscrutable driver: Will. Lee unfolds each story, and flits between them, with the brisk grace and discretion of the society she describes a world in which horrors are adumbrated but seldom told. 

My Take: Sometimes, I read a book for no other reason than that they call out to me. Their covers are so beautiful I can't help but read them. I mean look at that? It's lovely. Or at least I think so. I had heard somewhat mixed reviews about this one but I thought, well it's about WWII, a time period I can't seem to read enough about and it's set in Hong Kong which I honestly know nothing about in conjunction with WWII so I figured I'd give it a try. I am so glad I did.

This book, for me, was magical in a way because it unfolded little by little leaving you to figure it out. Every chapter starts with a date, be it around WWII or ten years later. Most of the people involved are similar in both time periods so it's up to you to figure out if they were good or bad during the War. I liked this book mainly for the fact that it made me work for it.

The plot centered around three main characters. During the War the love affair was between Will Truesdale and Trudy Laing. Trudy had lived in Hong Kong her whole life and was Eurasian. Will had arrived shortly before the War from England and they fell madly in love. It surprised them both. During the War apparently Hong Kong, while being a British colony, was quickly conquered by the Japanese. The Japanese then quickly rounded up the British, Americans and the Dutch and put them in interment camps. Did you know this? I had no idea! I found this fascinating the way it all shook out in the book but basically Will and most of everyone in power were thrown in the camps but Trudy being Eurasian remained out of the camps.

The other part of the story takes place ten years later and involves a love affair between Will Truesdale and Claire, who just came to Hong Kong with her husband (scandal!). She is the piano teacher of which the book is named after and so who I am assuming is on the cover. She teaches piano to a wealthy Chinese family and Will is their driver which is how they meet. The crux of the story is how the two timelines interweave. Personally, I found it all fascinating. It made me want to learn more about Hong Kong during this time period. If you've read this book what did you think of it?

(I received this book as a gift)


  1. I haven't read this book, but it's on my TBR list. After reading your review I think I'll put this book at the top of my list.


  2. I read it and loved it as well. Truly fascinating as I knew nothing of this bit of history and the storyline was very intriguing and left me wanting more at all times.
    Great review!

  3. Great review! I love historically set novels as they truly can transport you to a different place.

  4. This sounds pretty interesting. I would agree that the cover here is breathtaking and really pulls you in. I'll have to check this one out. Thanks for the review!

  5. Sometimes books really do call us and this cover is lovely. Glad that you enjoyed it so much. It does sound like a good one.

  6. I really liked it. I don't read many books in this era but I was drawn into the story from the first page.

  7. I've really been enjoying historical fiction lately, and this one sounds divine. I'm adding it to my list!

  8. I love the cover! I don't know if I'd like the WWII content, but that's just me

  9. I often read books for no other reason than their covers are gorgeous, too! Sounds like a great story; enjoyed your review!

  10. I agree that this book has a beautiful cover. I haven't read this one, but I'm always looking for good books set during WWII.

    I hope it's okay to link to your review on War Through the Generations.

  11. Thanks everyone for all of your lovely comments and I hope, for those of you that haven't read this yet, that you do read it!

    Diary of an Eccentric - I'd be honored if you linked to my review!

  12. This book is on my TBR shelf to read. Like you, I initially picked it up for the lovely cover, but the description made me buy it. Thanks for the review!


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