Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Journey To Old Hong Kong--Janice Lee's "The Piano Teacher"

The Piano Teacher takes place in Hong Kong in two distinct periods--one before and during World War II (1941-1942) and one after (1951-1952). At its center are two women in love with one man. Claire, a newly wed young Englishwoman has just arrived in Hong Kong with her new husband in 1951. As she tries to adjust to life in this foreign city, Claire takes a job as a piano teacher in the home of a wealthy Chinese family, the Chens. At their house, Claire meets another Chen family employee, Will Truesdale, a chauffeur who never seems to drive anyone. Will and Claire fall into a passionate romance, and soon Claire begins to discover Will has a complicated past with the Chens, and one of their relatives, a former love named Trudy. As Claire and the reader discover the horrors of Will's past during the war, she comes to realize who she really loves. Will she be able to accept the crimes of those around her during the war? 

This book grabs you in the first chapter, and I absolutely had a hard time putting it down. The author's juxtaposition of the two time periods, slowly unfolding the central narratives in each makes for a captivating read. I found the characters and the motives for their actions intriguing. The author's description of the setting was rich--at points I felt like I could feel the humidity (maybe its just because its pretty humid where I live) and smell the streets of Hong Kong. And although this book sounds like a fairly standard historical romance, some of its plot elements kept me guessing to the end. 

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical romance, because its one of the best i've read in a while. I know its early in the year, but I have a feeling The Piano Teacher is going to stay on my best of the year list. 

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