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The suspenseful, emotionally resonant, and utterly compelling story of what brings an enigmatic French woman to a small Canadian town in the 1930s, a woman who has found depths of strength in dark times and comes to discover sanctuary at last. For readers of The Imposter Bride, The Cellist of Sarajevo, Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, and The Red Violin.
Helene Giroux arrives alone in St. Homais on a winter day. She wears good city clothes and drives an elegant car, and everything she owns is in a small trunk in the back seat. In the local church she finds a fine old piano, a Molnar, and she knows just how fine it is, for her family had manufactured these pianos before the Great War. Then her mother's death and war forces her to abandon her former life.
The story moves back and forth in time as Helene, settling into a simple life, playing the piano for church choir, recalls the extraordinary events that brought her to this place. They include the early loss of her soldier husband and the reappearance of an old suitor who rescues her and her daughter, when she is most desperate; the journeys that very few women of her time could even imagine, into the forests of Indochina in search of ancient treasures and finally, and fatefully, to the Canadian north. When the town policeman confronts her, past and present suddenly converge and she must face an episode that she had thought had been left behind forever.
|Publisher:||McClelland & Stewart|
|Product dimensions:||5.70(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
KURT PALKA is the author of The Piano Maker, his sixth novel. His previous work includes Clara, which was originally published in hardcover as Patient Number 7, and was a finalist for The Hammett Prize. He lives near Toronto.
Reading Group Guide
1. When Hélène first arrives in Saint Homais, Father William talks about her being “uncommitted,” and asks her if there’s anything he should know that would prevent her from being active in the church. What do you think would have happened if she had told the priest the truth?
2. Discuss the various ways in which the people of St. Homais react to the news of the murder charges against Hélène, and why.
3. In the end, do you think Hélène ever achieves clarity or resolution? Has she made a new beginning? Is it ever really possible to leave the past behind?
4. Nathan wants Hélène to accompany him on his dealings because “people trust a man when he is with a woman like you. They trust her and it rubs off and they think he must be a good man if she’s with him” (p. 154). Do Hélène’s moral boundaries shift when she decides to work with Nathan? How so?
5. Hélène learns early on “the importance of the first few notes” (p. 35) in music, and, by extension, the importance of first impressions in business and otherwise. How does she put that to use throughout her life?
6. Hélène and Nathan visit an Indian agent to buy an Indian transformation mask. Discuss the concept of Nathan as transformer, someone who becomes “something or someone else” (p. 160).
7. Has Hélène learned to be as duplicitous as Nathan?
8. What effect does war have on the characters and how they behave?
9. Hélène refers to “the healing power of money” (p. 161). In what way is that true and in what way has money also corrupted her and Nathan, to greater or lesser extents? How does Hélène and Nathan’s relationship change over time? Do you think Nathan truly loved Hélène? If so, why did he cheat her?
10. Why do you think Hélène let the dogs go after Nathan's accident?
11. If you ever found yourself in Hélène’s position, what would you have done?
12. Do you agree with the judgment in Hélène’s case? In her own mind, what happened was a terrible act of kindness.
13. Do you consider Hélène powerful and independent in dictating the terms of her own life or is she simply a victim of fate doing the best she can under the circumstances?
14. Discuss the role of duty and honour in the book and how it dictates certain decisions for Hélène and various turns of events.
15. Which era of Hélène’s life did you find you could most relate to and why?