Piano Teacher: A Novel
"In the sweeping tradition of The English Patient, a gripping tale of love and betrayal set in war-torn Hong Kong In 1942, Will Truesdale, an Englishman newly arrived in Hong Kong, falls headlong into a passionate relationship with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite. But their love affair is soon threatened by the invasion of the Japanese as World War II overwhelms their part of the world. Will is sent to an internment camp, where he and other foreigners struggle daily for survival. Meanwhile, Trudy remains outside, forced to form dangerous alliances with the Japanese-in particular, the malevolent head of the gendarmerie, whose desperate attempts to locate a priceless collection of Chinese art lead to a chain of terrible betrayals. Ten years later, Claire Pendleton comes to Hong Kong and is hired by the wealthy Chen family as their daughter's piano teacher. A provincial English newlywed, Claire is seduced by the heady social life of the expatriate community. At one of its elegant cocktail parties, she meets Will, to whom she is instantly attracted-but as their affair intensifies, Claire discovers that Will's enigmatic persona hides a devastating past. As she begins to understand the true nature of the world she has entered, and long-buried secrets start to emerge, Claire learns that sometimes the price of survival is love." (Book Description)
Janice Lee was born and raised in Hong Kong, and attended boarding school and Harvard College in the U.S. A Yaddo fellow, former editor at Elle magazine, and former student of Chang-Rae Lee, Janice currently lives in Hong Kong with her husband and two young sons. THE PIANO TEACHER is her first book. From the Book Reporter
Former Elle editor Lee delivers a standout debut dealing with the rigors of love and survival during a time of war, and the consequences of choices made under duress. Claire Pendleton, newly married and arrived in Hong Kong in 1952, finds work giving piano lessons to the daughter of Melody and Victor Chen, a wealthy Chinese couple. While the girl is less than interested in music, the Chens' flinty British expat driver, Will Truesdale, is certainly interested in Claire, and vice versa. Their fast-blossoming affair is juxtaposed against a plot line beginning in 1941 when Will gets swept up by the beautiful and tempestuous Trudy Liang, and then follows through his life during the Japanese occupation. As Claire and Will's affair becomes common knowledge, so do the specifics of Will's murky past, Trudy's motivations and Victor's role in past events. The rippling of past actions through to the present lends the narrative layers of intrigue and more than a few unexpected twists. Lee covers a little-known time in Chinese history without melodrama, and deconstructs without judgment the choices people make in order to live one more day under torturous circumstances. From Publishers Weekly
1. Why does Claire steal from the Chens? Why does she stop doing it?
2. Part of Claire’s attraction to Will is that he allows her to be someone different than she had always been. Have you ever been drawn to a person or a situation because it offered you the opportunity to reinvent yourself?
3. The amahs are a steady but silent presence throughout the book. Imagine Trudy and Will’s relationship and then Claire and Will’s affair from their point of view and discuss.
4. Trudy was initially drawn to Will because of his quiet equanimity and Will to Claire because of her innocence. Yet those are precisely the qualities each loses in the course of their love affairs. What does this say about the nature of these relationships? Would Will have been attracted to a woman like Claire before Trudy?
5. What is the irony behind Claire’s adoration of the young Princess Elizabeth?
6. Were Dominick and Trudy guilty of collaboration, or were they simply trying to survive? Do their circumstances absolve them of their actions?
7. Mary, Tobias’s mother, and one of Will’s fellow prisoners in Stanley, does not take advantage of her job in the kitchen to steal more food for her son. Yet she prostitutes herself to preserve him. Is Tobias’s physical survival worth the psychological damage she’s inflicting?
8. Did Trudy give her emerald ring and Locket to Melody? How much did Melody really know?
9. How do Ned Young’s experiences parallel Trudy’s?
10. Did Will fail Trudy? Was his decision to remain in Stanley rather than be with her on the outside—as he believes—an act of cowardice?
11. Would Locket be better off knowing the truth about her parentage?
12. What would happen if Trudy somehow survived and came back to Will? Could they find happiness together?
Questions issued by publisher.