When Englishman Will Truesdale arrives in Hong Kong in 1941, he is swept up by Trudy Liang, a beautiful woman of Chinese-Portuguese background, who draws him into her world of parties and frivolity. As a Eurasian, Trudy straddles the world of the Chinese and the Europeans, and yet is not truly a part of either. Will is entranced by this lovely, headstrong creature, but their affair takes an unexpected turn when war breaks out in Hong Kong and the Japanese invade.
Flash forward to 1952, when Claire Pendelton, a sheltered English rose, follows her new husband to Hong Kong to escape her provincial life. She becomes a piano teacher for a wealthy, connected Chinese family, the Chens. There she meets their chauffeur, Will, who is mysterious, brooding and sports a limp from the war. They begin an unlikely affair, but the ghosts of the past return to haunt them both.
Janice Y. K. Lee’s The Piano Teacher captures the vivacity of Hong Kong before and after the war, its cliques and prejudices, its streets and nightclubs with confidence and assurance. Her style is fluid yet measured, and she builds suspense through her characters, dialogue and through the city of Hong Kong itself. Lee captures the trauma and depravity of the war just as expertly–I was moved, sickened, surprised, and utterly transported to that time and place when both Will and Trudy struggle to survive.
In other words, The Piano Teacher was an unexpected page-turner. I could not put it down.
A friend of mine recently wrote a post that would provide another vantage from which to see the war. See this post about how Gail Tsukiyama’s The Street of a Thousand Blossoms depicts how the Japanese people also suffered during WWII.