The Piano Teacher: Book Review

If you heard a book described as “like The English Patient,” would you read it?  Until recently, my answer would have been “____ no!”  But having just finished The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee, and having since heard it described just so, my answer has maybe changed.  Maybe.

The Piano Teacher takes place in Hong Kong in the 1940s and -50s (not consecutively, but jumping back and forth, first in the 1950s, then the 1940s, then backs to the -50s, etc.).  This is the WWII era (for those non history buffs, of which I am one) (one being not a history buff, that is.  Apparently I’m not good with history OR English).  As it turns out, Hong Kong was quite the hot spot during this time.  A rough place to be during the war, particularly for Europeans and other expats, but quite lovely before and after that.  For a long time, the orient or far East or whatever you want to generally call it did not hold, for me, the allure that, say, Western Europe did/does.  But through this and other books I have read recently (e.g. Memoirs of a Geisha), I am developing quite an interest.  Hong Kong has been added to my official list.

There is intrigue and and then danger, interwoven with a healthy dose of scandal, as Claire, the piano teacher, embarks on this journey of self-discovery, finding herself anew in this foreign land with different rules and customs, calling into question, for me, how much of our identity/behavior is dependent on our surroundings, both social and geographic, and how our personal value structure and ethics would hold up in a society or circumstance which rendered all of the above sort of null and void.

I was also introduced to the term “Eurasian” which I don’t think I had ever heard before, though upon hearing it the term’s meaning is easy enough to derive.  I have since heard it several times, in unexpected places, but you know how that goes.

There is also a burgeoning kleptomaniac, which I always find fascinating.

The book started slow for me, I will admit.  I actually picked up a hard copy about a year ago, gave up, then picked it up on CD last month.  The narrator was British, so that helped (frankly, I would probably listen to a British woman reading the phone book, if anyone knew where I could get a copy.  I LOVE a British accent).

The book has a definite ambiance, and there is romance, and just enough naughty to keep things exciting, so if you like WWII-era books, or British accents, or romance, or Hong Kong, or stealing, or The English Patient, you should definitely check it out.

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