Chrissie's Reviews > The Piano Tuner

The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason
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's review
Oct 13, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: burma, great-britain, hf, kirkus, arts, text-checked, history

I WILL AVOID SPOILERS! My review is less about plot than what happens to my head and my emotions when I read this book.

Finished: Nope I was wrong about how it would end. My guesses were not exactly right and the difference was very important! The end has a surprising twist. As you know this book had wonderful writing. Good story and good ending. This book has just about everything a book can have, but not much humor. Somehow I didn't miss it, maybe b/c rather than being a grim tale,the book was simply terribly interesting.

Through page 204 of 311 + very good author's note which I have already read! I swear I know how this book will end. I think I have it all figured out. I should warn that descriptions are very detailed. Maybe one likes this, maybe one doesn't. HOW the Erard piano works mechanically was a bit too confusing for me, but probably VERY interesting for someone who really knows about pianos. Anyone who loves the piano must love this book.... You know the first piano were square, and pianos developed from the harpsicord, at least Erard's version did. Then there is one scene that is fabulous about a hollow rock that rumbles/sings. Lots of info also about plant and alternative medicine treatments too.

Through page 179: OK, here is a little complaint. The author is trying to get me scared with numerous forewatnings. I feel like I am being played with. Like there is a mystery, but nothing happens. Then it is going to pounce on me. Most people like this - I don't. I don't have to read a book for the mystery in the plot. The travelogue, the history - that is what I enjoy. Oh yes, the dialogue is superbe. The author's dialogues at different occasions care ompletely different from eachother - drunk soldiers having a ribald talk over beers, a fancy colonial luncheon in Mandalay where the talk is more British than the British, the eccentirc speeches of Dr. Carroll himself. These dialogues are each perfect and each unique. They should be different and they certainly are. How the author is able to do this is beyond me. Still, I am annoyed about the mystery ploy.....

If you haven't notices, I am always spelling things incorrectly. I totally mix up English and French and Swedish. BTW English and French keyboards are different - that too explains crazy spellings. Sorry! I am too lazy to proofread. I just want to get my feelings out. Please be kind to me and ignore my misspellings and grammatical errors. I write reviews for enjoyment; I do it for me, b/c it helps me understnad my own views. I don't do it to write a correct essay for a school paper or for publication. I hope my views get other people thinking. I want to explain what the book is really about so others can accurately decide whether it is something they really want to read. There is so much to read that we cannot be wasting our time. And each of us like different types of literature.

hrough page 89: I am reading this very slowly - it is chockfull of interesting info. Before Edgar Drake reaches Rangoon on the Irrawaddy Delta he has spent much time reading reports from the War Office and Anthony Carroll himself, the man in Burma who had requested/demanded the piano tuner. Carroll's documents are fascinating and perhaps explain the antipathy between the military personel and Carroll. Carroll is self-educated, a very cultured man who knows everything from the physical geography of Burna to its history, the language of all the different tribes, the detailed information of the land's plants and animals and much, much more. BUT WE LEARN NOTHING ABOUT THE PIANO RHAT HAS TO BE REPAIRED. This is very unsettling for us the readers and of course Edgar Drake too. So Edgar writes a letter to those employing him, informing then of the history of the piano beginning in the early 1700s and the history of Sebastien Erard who made the piano shipped to Burma. This is all verey, very fascinating. All of it. Little hints are dropped about what is going to happen to Edgar - but I will not tell you any of that! Remember no spoilers! Then Edgar gets to Rangoon and the story turns into a travelogue again. The people, the clothing, the city, all are described, the things he saw as the carriage rolled through Rangoon:

"He blinked and the tea shop disappeared. replaced by a woman holding a plate of betel nuts and tiny leaves. She pressed close to the carriage and stared inside from beneath the shade of a wide straw hat. Like some of the vendors by the shore, her face was painted with white circles, moonlike against her dark skin."

"Edgar turned to the soldier,'What is that on her face?'
'The paint?'
'Yes, I saw it on some of the women by the docks. But different patterns. Peculiar.....'
'They call it "thanaka". It is made from ground sandalwood. Almost all of the women wear it and many of the men. They cover the babies with it too.'......"

"The lane widened and the carriage picked up speed. Soon the images spun past the window too fast to be seen."

Fascinating. There is so much to learn here. Did you know that the paiano was invented by a person called Cristofori. I didn't! All through the 1700s it underwent great modifications. What happened to musical instuments in France during the French Revolution also has a story all its own. I think soon something dramatic will occur to Edgar. My lips are zipped.

Through page 77: The reader encounter storytales, a travelogue and now Burmese History is th theme. I find the quite detailed history of the Burmese-Anglo Wars from the 1820-1880s interesting, but it isn't always so easy to follow since the tribal names are so strange. They don't stick in my head. Some of the details I am sure to forget but hopefully the major events will fasten. Soon Edgar, the piano tuner, will arive in Mae Lwin, his destination, located on the eastern Shan States of British Burma near the Burmese border to Siam(Thailand). Actually the Shan people felt a cultural tie with the people of Siam more than the Burman people.

Through page 59: I very much like the author's writing style. Writing style is more important to me than the plot! I am a member of the Historical Fictionistas Group. In this group under "blurbs" there is a thread for quotes from page 42 of the book you are reading. I think this thread gives you a chance to see some random text. The text must be from page 42, NOT the beginning of the book. What a good idea! Anyhow since I copied some text there, I will now copy it here too. Basically I am very lazy! :0) Here follows what I quoted in that thread. "They" in the quote refers to the peiano tuner, who will be leaving for Burma in a few days, and his wife, who is to remain in London.

"They walk home, now they speak of inconsequentials like how many pairs of stockings he has packed, how often he will write, gifts he should bring home, how not to become ill. The conversation rests uneasily; one doesn't expect goodbyes to be burdened by trivialities. This is not how it is in the books, he thinks, or in the theater; and he feels the need to speak of mission, of dity, of love. They reach home and close the door and he doesn't drop her hand. Where speach fails, touch compensates."

I find this very, very real. THIS is exactly what happens when someone dear leaves. No words are adequate to express your feelings so one resorts to trivialities. Don't you think?

The piano tuner then travels by boat and rail. You should experience how delightfully this is described - the fog in London, the color of the Mediterranean, the French views on Gerard! Fun stories are thrown in about the travelers on the boat. Here is a snippet of part of one such story:

"For when I looked up, the boys were running down a broad slope, chasing the goats. Below them stretched one of the most stunning visions I had ever seen. Indeed, had I been struck with blindness, rather than deafness, I think I would have been content. For nothing, not even the pounding surf of Babelmandeb, could match the scene that stretched out before me, the slope descending, flattening into a flat desert plain that stretched into a horizon blurred with sandstorms. And out of the thick dust, whose silence belied the rage known to anyone who has ever been caught in the terror of one of the storms, marched legions of caravans, from every point of the compass, long dark trails of horses and camels, all emerging from the blur that swept across the valley, and all converging on a tent enpcampment that lay at the base of the hill."

Wow, draw a picture of THAT in your head! Then paint in the colors....

Before starting: Can music conquer nations more effectively than military operations? Of course not, but.....

Kirkus says: "A wealth of information-musical, medical, historical, political-and numerous colorfully detailed vignettes of life in Burma's teeming cities and jungle villages."

I guess I have to add this too my must shelf!
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03/24/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-21 of 21) (21 new)

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Joanna I really loved this book.

Chrissie I have bought it, but I haven't had time to read it yet! I have so many books that I must read that itis pitiful. I really should not be looking at GR, but I do b/c I love it.

Joanna I like to flag a lot of books in here. Sometimes everything looks so wonderful! One book at a time, that's all you can do.

Chrissie Yup! Since there re so many different books and authors that I want to experience I stay away from series. They annoy me - why do I have to read book after book to get the story?! Only if I really adore an author do I read several books by him.

Laura sounds interesting...

message 6: by Chrissie (last edited Jan 24, 2010 03:40AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Chrissie It is, at least so far!

message 7: by Lynne (new) - added it

Lynne Good to know! I just discovered this in my bookcase. I must have purchased it with a stack of books at some library book sale.

Chrissie Your library book sales get me drooling with envy, but how do you do that practically? Do you go there with a list of the books you are looking for? Do you have a portable computer that lets you check out the books at GR before buying them? Or do you just take a chance and buy what looks good?

Me, when I go into a bookstore, I write down the titles and go home and check them first. Then I call and reserve the books that really seem worth buying. Talk about overly cautious, careful, pedantic.....

message 9: by Lynne (new) - added it

Lynne I am very cautious about buying books on-line or at the bookstore. I never buy one at first sight, but go home and think about whether I really want to own a copy or if I should wait for when or if copy is available at the library. It can take months for some books.

That said, I spend freely at the library book sale up to my budget of $50. At around fifty cents to three dollars a book, that goes a very long way and I don't feel too bad if I end up not liking a book. (Of course, I also don't mind contributing to the library fund!)

I review my good reads list before I go and about half of the books I find are on that list. It is a bit of a jumble so it is hard to look for specific books. I pick up some books that I have already read but want to own, if I find them. I then venture into my favorite genres and see what I find! I usually spend quite a bit of time and money in the biography/memoir and literary fiction areas. (I don't buy mysteries!)

Some people do bring computers/smart phones to identify books, but I am usually too busy juggling my bags of books to want to carry one more thing.

I shouldn't go this spring since I am obviously losing track of what is in my "to-read" bookcases! Somehow, I think I will end up there.

message 10: by Chrissie (last edited Jan 27, 2010 12:43AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Chrissie Lynne, I love hearing about what you do. I recognize so many similarities with myself. Uou don't buy mysteries - but you do read them! Don't you? I feel so weird not thinking mysteries are good escapes. I must keep forcing down the thought - this is all fiction so who cares who did it. This sort of wrecks mysteries for me. If I can learn something at the same time as there is a mystery going on, well that is fine. If it is too complicated it goes completely over my head b/c I don't pay that much attention to the clues.....

OHHH, I envy you and your library sales!!!!! If books are really cheap, who cares if you make a mistake or two. Yes, you should go this spring!!!!!! Enjoy it for both of us!

Oh and that bit about not wanting to carry a computer around b/c you have ENOUGH to carry. That is familiar too! Even though I do not even have a portabel....That word portable looks misspelled. Hopeless at spelling! French and English are often so similar that you get totally confused. Pronounciation is even worse. There I am pitiful. My motto is, try and get yourself understood, by any means possible, and if the crrep doesn't want to understand me well then who cares. :0) Toodles

message 11: by Lynne (new) - added it

Lynne Chrissie wrote: "Lynne, I love hearing about what you do. I recognize so many similarities with myself. Uou don't buy mysteries - but you do read them! Don't you? I feel so weird not thinking mysteries are good esc..."

I used to not read mysteries but that had changed over the last few years since I discovered my audiobooks. There are lots of mysteries available and they pass the time while I am doing housework. I just never buy them because I know that I will never look at them again.

Chrissie Exactly, once you know you know! unless you forget .....

message 13: by Julia (new) - added it

Julia Thanks so much for recommending this to me, Chrissie, I've been following your whirl through artist's books with awe, i really need to get more into that topic as well.......... and this one sounds amazing!

by the way, don't worry about your spelling, your reviews are really authentic and give a great impression of how you really feel about a book, i enjoy that.....

message 14: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Chrissie, You recommended this to me and now, after reading your review, there's a friend I'm going to call today and recommend it to her! She's not on Goodreads so I can't recommend it here.

Laura I have already added it to my TBR....

Chrissie Lisa and Laura, I have recommended this to several because I think it has so many good qualities that it will appeal to different people for different reasons. Practically eveyone ought to find something they like.

message 17: by Lance (new) - added it

Lance Greenfield Great review. I feel as if I have already skim read the book, apart from the twists at the end. It sounds great for me as long as I am prepared to wade through yards of description. My mother was a concert pianist, so I have a personal interest.

Where did the abbreviation "b/c" come from? I have never seen that one before, Chrissie!

message 18: by Chrissie (last edited Oct 18, 2011 12:27AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Chrissie b/c means because.

Lance, I am glad I could help you decide. Thank you for your vote of confidence! ;0)

message 19: by Lance (new) - added it

Lance Greenfield Chrissie wrote: "b/c means because.

Lance, I am glad I could help you decide. Thank you for your vote of confidence! ;0)"

I worked out the meaning of b/c, b/c I'm clever like that!

Have fun! ;-)

message 20: by Carol (new)

Carol this has been on my someday list. Love your review...

Chrissie Carol, thank you! I think it is definitely worth reading.

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