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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)
A rattling good story, complex characterizations, and a brilliantly realized portrayal of an alien culture-all combine to dazzling effect in this first by a California medical student who has worked and studied in the Far East. Piano tuner Edgar Drake undertakes his journey (thrillingly described), arriving at the inland fortress where the suave Dr. Anthony Carroll-part Albert Schweitzer, part Mistah Kurtz of Heart of Darkness-rules as a benevolent despot, aided by a beautiful Burmese woman to whom Edgar finds himself increasingly attracted. A wealth of information-musical, medical, historical, political-and numerous colorfully detailed vignettes of life in Burma's teeming cities and jungle villages provide a solid context for the intricate plot, which brings Drake into 'complicity' with Carroll's visionary dream...until the powerful denouement [and the] deeply ironic climactic action. (One keeps thinking of what a marvelous movie The Piano Tuner might make.) . . . An irresistible amalgam of Kipling, Rider Haggard, and Conrad at their very best. Masterful.
Richly imagined, The Piano Tuner winds like a lazy river, carrying the reader into the mythic land of Kipling and Conrad.
Forty-one-year-old Edgar Drake seems an unlikely protagonist for a bildungsroman. Happy with his wife of eighteen years and his reputation as one of the finest piano tuners in late-nineteenth-century London, he is "a man whose life is defined by creating order so that others may make beauty." Transformation comes in the form of a summons to a remote outpost in Burma: a maverick British officer there has imported a vintage Erard grand into the jungle, where the humidity has caused it to lose its temperament. Drake's journey to the Far East is a kind of anti-"Heart of Darkness," as he opens himself up to the uncertainty and wonder of human experience. In this début novel, Mason proves himself equally adept at scenes of wry humor and moments of rapture; most remarkable, he has written a profound adventure story with an unexpected climax, as the mild piano tuner finally becomes the hero of his own life.
Set in Burma in 1886a place of gilded temples, warring chieftains and duplicitous imperial powers struggling for dominance of Mandalaythis debut novel sparkles with exoticism. Unfortunately, the story can't conceal its inherent improbability nor the pedestrian nature of its title character, London piano tuner Edgar Drake, summoned from half a world away to tune the instrument of a brilliant, reclusive English officer, Anthony Carroll. In the first chapter, Carrollbotanist, diplomat, physician, linguistis implausibly described as having won the heart of a warlord by reciting to him Shelley's "Ozymandias." Since Shelley's poem mocks the futility of power and military might, it seems like the least likely sonnet in the English language to win a warrior's heart. Certainly the choice belies Carroll's supposed reputation as a diplomat. As the piano tuner, a banal fellow capable of noting that "the camera is a wonderful invention indeed," inches his way toward the brilliant eccentric in the heart of the jungle, it is impossible not to think of this book as a sort of Heart of Darkness lite.
In October 1886, piano tuner Edgar Drake receives an astonishing request from the War Office. He is asked to go to Burma to tune the Erard piano of Surgeon-Major Anthony Carroll, to whom the office is much indebted for keeping the peace in the remote and restless Shan States. Drake accepts the assignment and launches on a journey of self-discovery that takes him from London to Calcutta to Rangoon and, with the help of a mysterious Burmese woman named Khin Myo, to the compound of the formidable Dr. Carroll himself. Yes, he successfully tunes the piano and even plays a concert for visiting dignitaries he chooses Bach's immortal Well-Tempered Clavier, reasoning that it has universal application but Drake finds that he cannot leave. He is altered by the beauty of the place, slowly opening himself to Khin Myo, and caught up in Carroll's machinations, which may or may not be seditious. It ends, inevitably, in tragedy, but the reader will regret that it ends at all. This is an utterly involving first novel, rich in historical detail and as lulling as Burma itself. Mason's language is at once tropically lush and as precise as a Bach prelude. A novel for readers of literary and popular fiction alike; highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/02.] Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Confidently weaving historical fact together with his own imaginative constructions, Mr. Mason creates a riveting narrative.... he has written a seductive and lyrical novel that probes the brutalities and compromises of colonization, even as it celebrates the elusive powers of music and the imagination. Michiko Kakutani
“A gripping and resonant novel. . . . It immerses the reader in a distant world with startling immediacy and ardor. . . . Riveting.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“An ambitious, adventuresome, highly unusual first novel that offers pleasures too rarely encountered in contemporary American literary fiction. . . . [Mason is] a gifted, original and courageous writer.” —The Washington Post Book World
“Luminous. . . . Mason’s writing achieves that kind of reverie in which every vision, tone, flavor and sensation is magnified.” —Los Angeles Times
“Intoxicating, full of sights to see, histories to learn, stories to entertain.” —USA Today
“Remarkable. . . . A profound adventure story.” –The New Yorker
“Inspired. . . . The Piano Tuner is a brilliant debut.” –Miami Herald
“Reminded me of books I read by flashlight, under the covers, when I was young.” –USA Today
“Mason’s writing achieves that kind of reverie in which every vision, tone, flavor and sensation is magnified.” –LA Times
“Excellent. . . . [Mason’s] powerful prose style and his ability to embrace history, politics, nature and medicine . . . [is] astonishing.” –The New York Times Book Review
“The Piano Tuner is a haunting, passionate story of empire and individualism. . . . [Mason is] a gifted writer.” –San Francisco Chronicle
“This wondrous work of fiction . . . artfully weaves psychology, politics, medicine and music theory into a polyphonic composition. . . . A virtuoso performance.” –Newsday
“[A] very fine first novel. . . . Its author is rich in talent and promise.” –Philadelphia Inquirer
“Daniel Mason’s ambitious, lyrical The Piano Tuner . . . [possesses] genuine moments of ominous beauty. . . . Readers . . . should be intrigued by the mix of historical detail, lush settings, and equally lush language.” –San Jose Mercury News
“A smart, entertaining adventure.” –Christian Science Monitor
“An intense, shimmering dream of a story.” –Grand Rapids Press
“Mason has improvised a virtuoso tale . . . a complex and subtly imagined adventure.” –Guardian Unlimited