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In late-19th-century London, expert piano tuner Edgar Drake receives a strange request in the name of Her Majesty's War Office. His mission? To service a rare grand piano delivered with difficulty and at great expense to an eccentric officer in a remote region of the Army's Burmese division. Surgeon-Major Anthony Carroll occupies a post of particular strategic interest to Britain, and Her Majesty's government has reluctantly agreed to his demand for a piano under his threat of resignation. His current request for a piano tuner carries the same warning, but this history is of little interest to Drake, who emerges from his introverted shell just long enough to recognize the potential for adventure should he accept this bizarre commission.
Upon arrival in Burma, Drake realizes that the primary opposition to Major Carroll comes from within the British Army. Carroll hasn't followed protocol regarding the surrender of his territory to the English Crown, preferring to negotiate with the tribal leaders to preserve the local culture. Carroll's anticolonial approach is deemed unacceptable, placing him in dangerous territory, with enemies on all sides, and effectively prohibiting Drake's travel to the needy piano. Disobeying orders, Drake undertakes the forbidden journey to the rare piano with the help of a beautiful and mysterious guide.
Mason's virtuoso descriptions of exotic precolonial Burma make The Piano Tuner a magical and symphonic trip to what might have been -- and what might still be -- if humanity can manage to abandon the endless struggle for power and wealth and accept music as a more effective weapon than artillery. (Fall 2002 Selection)