Elaine's Reviews > The Piano Teacher

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee
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's review
Jun 26, 11

I picked up the audiobook version of this book because I needed something to listen to while walking the dog in the mornings. I often wonder if listening to a book counts as "reading" a book, but I will allow it for myself again this time.

The story centers around three individuals living in Hong Kong during World War II. Will, a resident of Hong Kong before, during, and after the Japanese invasion, currently works as a driver for a Chinese family, and falls in love with Claire, who has recently arrived with her husband, and is soon hired by the same Chinese family to teach their little girl piano. The story goes back and forth in time between the wartime period and the current 1950 time period to include the story of the third main character, Trudy, who is Chinese-Portuguese, and the cousin of the wife in this same aforementioned Chinese family.

With the relationship of Trudy and Will during the wartime period, and then Claire and Will in the current 1950 period, the author tries to tell the story of Hong Kong and how the Japanese invasion affected the island colony. Some interesting "historical" themes are woven into the story such as the relationships between the British and the Chinese in Hong Kong as it prospered before the war, the racial prejudices toward "half-breeds" like Trudy, the brutality of the Japanese military, and the whole issue of how they had to figure out what to do with the British citizens, who decided to remain in Hong Kong after the invasion.

Each of the three main characters deals with some issue of moral integrity....Trudy, who decides not to live in the camps set up for the non-Chinese citizens, hooks up with the Japanese official in charge after the invasion, and while she enjoys more favorable living conditions, puts up with being his mistress and with the moral dilemma of trying to find out from her previous friends, including Will, where the "Crown collection" of priceless Chinese artifacts has been hidden. Will, who decides to live in the camp, eventually meets people who know about the Crown collection, and struggles to hide this information while wanting to help and protect Trudy. And then there is Claire, who is newly married but is having an affair with Will.

This book reminds me of "The Empire of the Sun," a story told from the viewpoint of a young British boy who finds himself in a similar situation after the Japanese take over Shanghai. I think I enjoyed listening to it more than I would have enjoyed reading it because of the way it was beautifully read. I am also intrigued by what happened in Hong Kong during this period in the Japanese miltiary campaign during World War II.

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