The Piano Teacher
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The Piano Teacher

3.29 of 5 stars 3.29  ·  rating details  ·  13,729 ratings  ·  2,253 reviews
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...more
Hardcover, 328 pages
Published January 13th 2009 by Viking Adult (first published 2008)
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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 grow...more
Lee alternates between two different time periods to tell the story of betrayal in war time Hong Kong. (Does anyone just write a linear story any more? Seems like every book I pick up these days uses this kind of device).

I really enjoyed the 1940's story line of Will and Trudy during the war - An Englishman and a Eurasian woman who are in the thick of the pre-war social scene and how their lives change when the Japanese invade Hong Kong. Will is interned as a prisoner of war and Trudy decides t...more
I've found that it's easy to find World War II literature that focuses on the Holocaust or on the American experience. It's harder to find books that explore the non-Western experience. The Piano Teacher explores how lives in Hong Kong in the 1950s was affected by the Japanese invasion of the British colony during the war.

Ultimately, the 1940s parts were more compelling. I wanted to know more about the relationship between Will and Trudy, Will's experience in an internment camp with other Weste...more
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I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as I had hoped. The story was riveting; however, the characters were tremendously shallow, hard to understand, and extremely hard to like.

The Storyline
The story switches points of view between 1953 and 1942 when World War II has struck Hong Kong.

In 1953, Claire and Martin Pendleton, a recently married English couple, have moved to Hong Kong. Claire becomes a piano teacher teaching a young girl named Locket. Her pa...more
Jan 11, 2010 Barbara rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Barbara by: Susan
Shelves: asia, holocaust-ww-2
I completed this novel feeling frustrated and deflated. Yee could have expanded what she had so capably initiated.The manner which she utilized to relate this tale is often muddled and confusing. The story is set in Hong Kong and weaves back and forth between the 40's and 50's. She has clearly demonstrated the attitudes of class among the British, Americans and the native people. On one hand there are the people who are leading their frivolous existences similar to the Gatsby era and then there...more
the salespeople at Borders did me wrong! in their defense, i had but 10 minutes on my parking meter and made a hasty decision to buy this book.

and what a book! what a dumb book. boring story. i kept waiting for the story to get moving and it never did.

this is a slow story about a bunch of english ex-pats living in hong kong and going to parties, having affairs, stealing things. Part 2 gets only mildly interesting when the japanese invade.

boring boring boring characters. i didn't really care w...more
bookshelves: read (edit)
status: Read in March, 2009, read count: 1
review: The cover of this book, The Piano Teacher, is its saving grace. It is a novel that attempts to provide some insights into conditions in Hong Kong prior to, during, and after World War II. It is a part of the world where the English, others, and the wealthy Chinese families form a tangled web of relationships.
On the one hand, we have Will Truesdale who finds himself strangely drawn to a Eurasian sprite of a girl,...more
The beginning was a little hard to get into. I was about to give up so read some of the reviews on here found I wasn't alone. I pushed through and I'm so glad I did!! This was a beautifully written, it brought Hong Kong and the war alive. There were very interesting characters as well. Around page 100 it got so good I devoured the rest!
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 promi...more
Jun 26, 2012 Sharmeela rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: umm how about a piano teacher...or Chinese people...prob not Japanese though
Recommended to Sharmeela by: me
This book was just okay. The plot had such potential, but Lee chose to squander it somewhat. I'll admit I enjoyed the past/present flow of the story, but the actual story was more boring than anything. I found myself waiting and waiting for Lee to get to the point, to no avail. I assumed (naively) that since I'm waiting and waiting for this giant secret to emerge, that it would have to be something worthwhile. But alas, I was wrong! It was the most obvious secret ever! I was thoroughly disappoin...more
October 10....I've had a chance to sleep on this even though I went to bed crying,woke in the night crying and have been weepy for most of the day when I think about this story. B/c it's had such a profound affect on a Megan Hart it's staying and not going quietly...I've decided to give it 5 stars. I stopped giving stars, in the hopes that you guys would read the review and then decide if the book was one you'd like to read but I feel so strongly about this one.....My emotion at the m...more
Have you ever read a book at just the right time? That was the case with this book. I was feeling like something light, chicklit-ish, so this book hit the spot. I enjoyed the backdrop of the British-Chinese-Japanese contention. The portrayal of the Chinese difficulty in survival in their own country, camps, British betrayal of the Chinese and the look at some Chinese who profited by selling out their own people offered several perspectives of this terrible time in Chinese history.

All that aside...more
"the writing is beautiful, the research is superb, and the setting is fantastic". Two love stories 10 years apart. War changes everything and torments the survivors. She deftly describes Hong Kong weather (torrents of rain) the heat, the crowded market streets and the prison where the non-asian were imprisoned.

I listened to this and loved the narrator.
Nov 11, 2009 Charly rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People with short to-read lists
This is another one that I wouldn't put to the top of my to read list. It was a first effort I think by the author and I thought I would give it a chance. Set in Hong Kong it deals with pre-war to post_war relationships that were somewhat transparent to me. Nothing to write home about.
Marc Maitland
Because of the mixed reviews, and this being the author’s first work, I really had no idea what to expect. Criticised by some and described as “this year’s ‘Atonement’” by others (in a presumably complimentary way), I was very pleased with both the plot and the very well-researched attention to detail. In my opinion, it is a far better read than Ian McEwan’s “Atonement”, which I read (and reviewed) a year ago.

I don’t even want to attempt to summarise the plotline, which basically jumps between...more
Maya Panika
Don't judge a book by its cover!

On the surface, this is a romance novel about a man’s One Great Love that can’t withstand the rigours of the war, and a less than great affair with a married piano teacher. Underneath that surface lies a cleverly constructed mystery about a beautiful socialite who disappears during the war and the people responsible, directly and indirectly, for her death.

Some of the characters grow rich, stay safe, become successful, others are interned, tortured and die – and...more
Claire, the piano teacher of the title, is a bland, blonde, naive young British newlywed recently relocated to Hong Kong with her husband. She takes a position as a piano teacher for the young daughter of a wealthy Chinese family and she is introduced to the brittle, shallow, wealthy, prejudiced expatriate community in 1950's Hong Kong. Eventually she meets and begins an affair with Will Truesdale, a long-time British expatriate with a mysterious history.

Alternating chapters with Claire's story...more
“The Piano Teacher” is a gripping and incredibly well-told novel about love and survival in wartime. Lee’s exceptionally researched story unfolds in Hong Kong both before and after WWII, detailing little-known aspects of the expat community (Brits, Canadians, Americans, and Eurasians) and their experiences during the Japanese invasion of their beloved city. The dual narratives may focus on the romantic relationships between one man and two different women, but this is not simply a love story; it...more
As many readers have noted, this book starts out as a pleasant story, alternating between high society in 1940's Hong Kong, and 1950's Hong Kong. Not very interesting, but then everything changes as war starts in 1941, and when it has ended in the 50's. Lee's story puts us right in the action, you read about a very different wartime experience, and this is a tale that weaves and unwinds credibly!
Elevate Difference
Janice Y. K. Lee's debut novel, The Piano Teacher, takes the reader inside the upper social circles of Hong Kong during and ten years after World War II. The book opens in 1950s Hong Kong with Claire Pendleton, a young British wife who is bored and takes a job teaching piano to the daughter of a wealthy Hong Kong couple. “It started as an accident. The small Herend rabbit had fallen into Claire's purse.” In these first two lines of the novel, Claire is stealing an expensive figurine from her emp...more
Gerri Leen
Another one I'm on the fence as to how to rate. Major points for being a sweeping saga that manages to stay intimately focused on just a few characters. Also loved the fact that it moved quickly, made me want to pick it up, and was impeccably crafted in a non-linear style, which I love (if it's not confusing, and this was not). I didn't know much about Hong Kong just before and during WWII, (although I had a feel for Shanghai during that time due to watching Lust, Caution so that may have made t...more
This is an absorbing novel set in Hong Kong before, during, and after the occupation by the Japanese during World War II. The characterization is well developed, and it seems like a character–driven novel. But as you get into it, the plot – at first subtle – takes on import nearly as strong as the characters. Hong Kong, btw, is almost itself a character. It is a good read – you won't want to put it down. I only had two problems with it. First, it is not told in chronological order. It isn't real...more
Disappointment. Although that's what this book sets out to portray, it accomplishes it in a different way that the author intended.
Set in the historically fascinating world of British Hong Kong in the 1940s and 50s, The Piano Teacher begins as a rather artsy novel that had a lot of potential. However, it fell flat about three or four chapters in, and the rest was dull and underachieving. Where Janice K. Lee has promise as a novelist, this book needed more personal editing and plot consolidation...more
Amit Shetty
A beautiful story with no ending

The above statement probably summarizes how I feel about the book. Set in China, the story deals with a multitude of characters with no one playing the central role (not even the piano teacher). What I loved about this book was the fact that every chapters shifted from one timeline to another giving the reader a detailed glimpse of the present and the past. This is particularly effective in this book since the past basically deals with the multitude of crimes com...more
Jan 08, 2010 CLM rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to CLM by: Anson
I knew little about this book before I began and started with the audio version, which grabbed me instantly, moving back and forth between 1950s Hong Kong and a quiet British woman Claire who has traveled east with a husband she barely knows and back ten years to Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian captivating society as World War II reaches and devastates Hong Kong. Enigmatic Will Truesdale is the Englishman they both love, although perhaps Claire is just in love with her first opportunity to esc...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Most critics expressed surprise that a debut novel could be as compelling and self-assured as The Piano Teacher. Lee's flawed, colorful characters, although initially unlikeable, increasingly endear themselves to readers as the secrets of the past unfold, and her vivid descriptions of Hong Kong evoke the rich sights, sounds, and smells of that bygone, foreign world. Though the Washington Post complained that "the prose rarely sings," other reviewers praised its simplicity and grace. Critics note

Nov 19, 2013 Carmen rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Carmen by: Library
Shelves: fiction
Wow. When I first started reading this book, I didn't think it was so great. Well-written, certainly, but nothing to write home about. I thought Lee was writing underdeveloped women characters, and also, she wrote her women characters as if she didn't really like women. The, after about a quarter of the book, it turns into a war novel. I really dislike novels about war. So I was not enjoying it very much. HOWEVER, about tho-thirds through the book, it starts getting really good, and everything j...more
This is one of those books that friends seem to feel compelled to recommend to others. This week, two copies were proffered to me by two very different kinds of readers: I am not quite sure what quality it contained that moved them to enthusiastically recommend it, not just pass it on.

Like many of the other Goodreads reviewers, I found the 1940's content and personalities much more interesting than the post-war, 1950's chapters. While reading, I was interested, but didn't find the book compelli...more
Sunny Shore
This book took my breath away. The combination of love story, rich historical value and fantastic writing all add up to one perfect book. Everyone - men and women - should read this powerful story of Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during WWII and the aftermath in the 50's. We know these characters through and through and they come to life as only certain writers can demonstrate. Definitely a top 10 for me.
I didn't know much about Japan's invasion of Hong Kong during WWII, and this novel gave me some insight into the conquerer's horific treatment of the citizens of the losing nations there. That was interesting. Also compelling were the characters of Claire Pendleton, the English woman who arrives with her husband Martin in Hong Kong ten years after the Japanese invasion and becomes the piano teacher to Locket, the daughter of the wealthy Chen family, and she begins an illicit affair with Will; Wi...more
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Janice Lee was born in Hong Kong to Korean parents and lived there until she was fifteen, attending the international school. She then left for boarding school in New Hampshire, where she learned the true meaning of winter.

From there, she moved south to Cambridge, MA, where she spent four years at Harvard, developing a taste for excellent coffee, Au Bon Pain pastries, and staying up all night, so...more
More about Janice Y.K. Lee...
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“And in the end, I think, we're all just trying to survive, aren't we?” 17 likes
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