The Piano Teacher

The Piano Teacher

3.5 206
by Janice Y. K. Lee

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In the sweeping tradition of The English Patient, a gripping tale of love and betrayal set in war-torn Hong Kong.  See more details below


In the sweeping tradition of The English Patient, a gripping tale of love and betrayal set in war-torn Hong Kong.

Editorial Reviews

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Exotic Hong Kong takes center stage in this sumptuous novel, set in the 1940s and '50s. It's a city teeming with people, sights, sounds, and smells, and it's home to a group of foreign nationals who enjoy the good life among the local moneyed set, in a tight-knit social enclave distanced from the culture at large. Comfortable, clever, and even a bit dazzling, they revel in their fancy dinners and fun parties. But their sheltered lives take an abrupt turn after the Japanese occupation, and though their reactions are varied -- denial, resistance, submission -- the toll it takes on all is soon laid bare.

Enter Claire Pendleton from London. Months after her husband is transferred to Hong Kong in 1951, she accepts a position as a piano teacher to the daughter of a wealthy couple, the Chens. Claire begins to see the appeal of the sweltering city and is soon taken in by the Chen's driver, the curiously underutilized Will Truesdale. A handsome charmer with a mysterious limp, Will appears to be the perfect companion for Claire, who's often left to her own devices. But a further examination leaves her with more questions than answers.

An intricately woven tale of lives changed by historical events, Lee's debut brings this hothouse flower of a city alive with passion, and imagines characters both unforgettable and tragic. (Spring 2009 Selection)

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Part 1

May 1952

It started as an accident. The small Herend rabbit had fallen into Claire's purse. It had been on the piano and she had been gathering up the sheet music at the end of the lesson when she knocked it off. It fell off the doily (a doily! on the Steinway!) and into her large leather bag. What had happened after that was perplexing, even to her. Locket had been staring down at the keyboard, and hadn't noticed. And then, Claire had just…left. It wasn't until she was downstairs and waiting for the bus that she grasped what she had done. And then it had been too late. She went home and buried the expensive porcelain figurine under her sweaters.

Claire and her husband had moved to Hong Kong nine months ago, transferred by the government, which had posted Martin in the Department of Water Services. Churchill had ended the rationing and things were starting to return to normal when they had received news of the posting. She had never dreamed of leaving England before.

Martin was an engineer, overseeing the building of the Tai Lam Cheung reservoir, so that there wouldn't need to be so much rationing when the rains ebbed, as they did every several years. It was to hold four and a half billion gallons of water when full. Claire almost couldn't imagine such a number, but Martin said it was barely enough for the people of Hong Kong, and he was sure that by the time they were finished, they'd have to build another. "More work for me," he said cheerfully. He was analyzing the topography of the hills so that they could install catchwaters for when the rain came. The English government did so much for the colonies, Claire knew. They made the locals' lives much better but they rarely appreciated it. Her mother had warned her about the Chinese before she left -- an unscrupulous, conniving people who would surely try to take advantage of her innocence and goodwill.

Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from THE PIANO TEACHER Copyright © Janice Y. K. Lee, 2009

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The Piano Teacher 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 206 reviews.
Readingrat More than 1 year ago
Two days ago I thought my review of this book would be quite different than it is. Two days ago I was on page 113 of this book and I was getting frustrated with the vapid characters who were either spending all their time acting the part of the privileged upper class English ex-pats in Hong Kong or (in Claire's case) stealing trinkets. Even the war-time surrender of Hong Kong to the Japanese seemed only a minor inconvenience to these people. However, a mere 13 pages later, the story rapidly grows teeth.
The Piano Teacher tells the story of two separate love affairs in the life of English ex-pat Will Truesdale. The two events are separated by a span of 12 years. In the 1940s, Will is new to Hong Kong and in love with a young Eurasian heiress, Trudy. They fill their days and nights with parties and other pleasant diversions. Even the war does little to affect their lifestyle, until the Japanese decide to put all the "enemy civilians" in interment camps. Will goes into the camp, but Trudy denies her British citizenship and remains free. From this point on, the story turns into a tragically human story of love, betrayal, and loss.
In the 1950s, Will has an affair with a young married woman, Claire. However, Will and Claire's affair simply provides the framework for the bigger picture of what ultimately happened to Will and Trudy during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong.
BLUEEYEBE More than 1 year ago
It is a love story first and foremost but this poignant story within a story is so deep with the horrors of war and what it does to the people involved makes it compelling. What would YOU do to live another day? Would you want to be put to the test? This is a very meaningful novel about the choices we make and the people we love. Some are noble and good and some are unfortunate. This book is thought-provoking and very interesting. The author's research made the setting and events believable. It is a book readers can sink their teeth into and think about long after having finished it. In the early 50's, Claire Pendleton, a young English woman, finds work teaching piano to the daughter of a wealthy Hong Kong family only to find herself attracted to their British driver, Will. Her curiosity about her lover's past leads to uncovering his story of how he and those around him survived the Japanese occupation during WWII. The story within the story goes back to 1941, just before the Japanese Bombing of Pearl Harbor when the Americans join the war and then the Japanese invade Hong Kong. In the pre-war months, an Englishman, Will meets and begins to keep company with Trudy Liang, a Eurasian girl with a very interesting and carefree lifestyle. He becomes smitten with her against his better judgment. They fall in love, but it is a love affair that is doomed. This is a good one, one to be enjoyed but also to get a feel for "meaning". One to think about!
huckfinn37 More than 1 year ago
The Piano Teacher is boring. The characters are whiny and I didn't care what happened to them. The information about Hong Kong is interesting; but the plot is weak and disjointed. I recommend Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweeet insted.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Piano Teacher is wonderfully written and places the reader directly into WWII in Hong Kong. The characters are unique and thoroughly depicted through their interactions and social events. When reading this novel, I was able to escape to the 1940s and imagine life as it was in Hong Kong, while the love story was also captivating and unique to its time. The technique of switching from past to present from the perspective of two different women allowed me to engage myself in the story because I was constantly searching for the connection between the two stories. I could not put the book down at the end because the plot begins to unravel and the connections are formed. I loved the voice and tone of the characters throughout the novel and the wonderful language of the author. If you enjoy historical fiction and love stories, this book deserves a spot in your library.
piesmom More than 1 year ago
The story was good but what made this truly interesting was all the details about Hong Kong during WWII. I found the history lesson just as skillfully written as the story itself. When I think about a novel after I have finished it, then I know it is worth reading.
Librarianloveskidsbooks More than 1 year ago
I put it down when half way along, because I do not like the characters. My stack of books to read calls me away from this one...
twerpazoid More than 1 year ago
If the boring escapades of a spoiled brat, a handsome hero, and a frustrated wife were omitted and replaced with more factual accounts of the place in time, this may have been an interesting book. I kept seeing the apologetic simpering of Janice Lee throughout the book.....zzzzzzzz. Much too obvious and frankly in my opinion not worth recommending.
reader72 More than 1 year ago
I can't believe I hadn't even heard of this book until a friend recommended it for our book club selection. Lee does a fantastic job of transporting you to Hong Kong in the 40s and 50s - you get such a sense of time and place. The characters and plot are interesting and engrossing - it is one of those books that you can't put down as you want to learn about how everything comes together. This is especially true givenm that the novel alternates between the 40s and the 50s, with hints of what has happened or what is to come interspersed creatively throughout. The book also made me want to learn much more about Japan's role in WWII - I have mostly learned about Europe during that time, not Asia.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book and was sorry when I had finished it! I am especially picky about the fiction I read and need a good engaging story before I will read fiction. Too much of the fiction today is one dimensional with unrealistic plotlines. Consequently, my reading these days is biography or memoir. I had, however, read a review of The Piano Teacher in Vogue and thought it sounded intriguing. Getting ready for a trip and looking for books to read, I happened upon The Piano Teacher and purchased it. Once I started reading, I couldn't stop. The story engages you immediately as do the characters. I was also struck by the background of the story - Hong Kong during and immediately after WWII. Now, I'm eagerly awaiting the author's next novel.
Ealasaidreads More than 1 year ago
I am a serious reader. I read this book in about three hours, thought a moment and reread from the middle. I wished it worked, the story wrapped in a story, but it simply does not. I was misled by a reviewer's remark that it was "Atmospheric." Yes, I understand Hong Kong is humid. Just like Missouri. The love story of Trudy and Will was fun, at first. The dialogue was great. Then it did not go anywhere. How could a savvy woman like Trudy allow herself to be impregnated? Is it believeable that she would act so foolishly? The there is the parallel between her and her mother, but isn't it overreaching just a tad to have Trudy mysteriously disappear? And then let us know exactely who killed her? Where is Will's rage? The love story of piano teacher and Will is awful. Is the reader to believe that Will was somehow changed by War into a man who will tell the piano teacher to stop stealing from the Chens, yet cannot keep her? And her last transformation is laughable. O, and that odd paragraph about the cousins. Was that Will rememebering? Or just a paragraph the author could not let go. Is the reader then supposed to understand everything because of this information? Or is it left in for shock value? The charasters all had such promise. And they all were as trivial as the nothing plot. The wonderful English school mistress was a terrible disappointment. Even the suicide was predictable (he was persuaded he caved?). It seems hard to believe the author spent time researching this book. For all that, and the Thank Yous, I would have expected to learn something I did not know about the War or Hong Kong or something. Perhaps I expected too much. For an atmospheric novel, please read The Historian.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although this book was not totally awful, I did not find it captivating like many of the other reviewers. I found the author's style very dull and at times hard to follow - I had to re-read many sentences to figure out what she was saying (I'm an avid reader and never have to do this). The characters were unappealing to say the least. I never felt like I wanted to understand them more - all seemed shallow and uninteresting until the last maybe 50 pages where a couple of them actually showed some depth. The only redeeming aspect of this book is the story itself. It sort of read like a movie that an author then decided to make into a book. It is a decent story and for those of you who like historical fiction, it definitely gives an interesting view of life in Hong Kong during and post WWII. For a much better read about life in Asia during WWII, I highly recommend Ten Green Bottles which is a true story about a family who escapes Vienna prior to WWII only to find themselves in yet another nightmare in Shanghai.
Aguilera-Yuma More than 1 year ago
This book will allow you to enter Hong Kong during WWII and after as seen through the eyes of the characters. If you weren't aware of what was happening in Hong Kong during this time you will find this book to be quite interesting. I loved the characters and the emotional roller coaster that many of them were on in this book. You won't be able to put it down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a very good book. I am glad that I was unaware that it went into World War II a bit because if I had I wouldn't have read it. This is a little graphic...There is a reason it is in the adult section. I think it fits the age of 15-above. I really loved the book though I could have waited a year or so to read it because of the graphics. Don't get me wrong it is not very graphic at all just a bit more than I thought thats all. In the reviews I read it didn't say anything about love scences or war ones. I just want to give people the warning I never got. Really and trully an amazing book especially for a first time writer.
GailCooke More than 1 year ago
Seldom have I been so captivated, so thoroughly absorbed by a novel. This skillful author's style is easy, so unaffected that one is immediately lost in the atmosphere she creates, transported by her descriptions. You feel the moist heat of the day on your skin, inhale the rich fragrance of jasmine, see the harbor frosted with stars, and shiver with fear in the face of torture or death. To read The Piano Teacher is to enter another world, a world that soon becomes as true as your own. You are immersed in her words, your heart is touched, and your senses engaged.

Janice Y. K. Lee's narrative alternates between decades. It is 1952 when the recently married Claire Pendleton arrives in Hong Kong. Her husband, Martin, is an engineer who is to oversee the building of a reservoir. He's a rather dull sort to Claire, "She was not so attracted to him, but who was she to be picky...." Thus she had accepted his proposal.

She finds Hong Kong quite to her liking, and takes a job with the wealthy Chen family simply to pass the time. She will teach their daughter, Locket, how to play the piano.

Will Truesdale, an Englishman, arrived in Hong Kong in the early 1940s. He soon met the elegant Trudy Laing, a striking, enigmatic Eurasian girl. She was the belle of Hong Kong, one who loved beautiful clothes, expensive parties, and to tease. Will fell madly in love. Their liaison was cut short by the invasion of the Japanese.

In short time Will, along with other English, American and Dutch, are sent to an interment camp where horror upon horror is visited upon them. Trudy is left to fend for herself in a war torn city, attempting to do so by ingratiating herself with Otsubo, the vicious head of the gendarmerie. She pleads with Will to let her use influence to get him out of the camp. He refuses, whether due to honor or fear he does not know.

After the war he meets Claire who learns to care for him little knowing his past and what an effect it has had upon him. Or, for that matter does she know of how the Chan family has impacted his life.

Lee has adroitly reconstructed pages of history peopling them with fictional characters who make choices for good or ill under the most dire circumstances. The Piano Teacher is not to be forgotten. Janice Y. K. Lee's writing is to be celebrated.

Highly recommended.

- Gail Cooke
momgee More than 1 year ago
It is so hard to believe that this is a debut novel. I found it wonderfully written and I was drawn in immediately. The story starts out in 1952 as we are introduced to Claire Pendleton, recent arrival in Hong Kong with her much older husband, Martin. Claire has been hired by the socially prominent Chen family to teach Locket Chen the piano. When the Chen family invites Claire and her husband to a party, she meets Will Truesdale, the Chen chauffer. The Chen family and Will Truesdale figure prominently in this novel from the beginning to the end.

The story then goes back and forth from 1941 to 1953 as the characters are introduced in preparation for possible invasion by the Japanese. With the use of flashback mode and differing points of view, we see the growth in the characters and how the war deeply affects them all. Will¿s importance is slowly revealed when the reader is taken back to 1941 and the beginning of his passionate affair with Trudy Liang, a young, spoiled Eurasion. Trudy has numerous connections with the Hong Kong community and has a tremendous emotional impact on Will.

Written with exquisite detail as to location, the reader can immerse themselves into the environs of Hong Kong. It is easy to visualize the center with its European, classical style building and yet, not far away, the local market with its narrow alley ways and frenetic activity amid smoky stalls and clamorous noise. I felt like I was walking with Claire as she became familiar with her new home. With Les's seamless segueing between decades, the character development is tremendous. The characters are so well fleshed out as to emotion and vulnerability, the reader will feel as if they are truly alive. Their emotions and feelings just seem to leap off the page.

Lee unfolds each complex layer bit by bit without missing a beat. When the lives of all the characters come to a point of convergence, the past haunts the present in the many intertwined relationships. Alliances forged during the war will have long reaching consequences long after the war is over. People who had high positions now are brought to new lows, the war being the great equalizer. It all comes down to a matter of survival and the lengths people will go to cope with the horrors and atrocities of war.

There are so many elements in the telling of this story: romance, loyalty, betrayal, secrets, history along with social commentary. The peripheral characters are easily woven into the story with their own interesting sub plots. The surprising twists at the end only add to the enjoyment of this novel. The progression of the story is orderly with no superfluous details and with a wonderfully engrossing plot, this book is sure to be a success. I absolutely loved it. 5*****
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was difficult book for me to like. The characters did not endear themselves to me. The author should have included some more background, to flesh out the story better. For the longest time I wasn't able to follow where this was going. It was a disappointment to me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read it for a book group; author is talented; setting and descriptions are excellent; I didn't like any of the characters though and wouldn't want to meet even one of them if they were real people; nevertheless, worth reading for the history and style
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It took me a bit ti get into this book and i almost stopped reading it all together but i decided to stick with it a little while longer and i am glad i did. I think stories about wwII are very interesting. I had no idea that it was so brutal until i started reading abiut it recently
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It takes awhile to understand whats goin on or the point of everything..