Martin and Claire Pendleton arrive in Hong Kong in 1952. Though they are newlyweds, Claire is not in love with Martin. His proposal was an escape from the unhappy life she led, and so she accepted.
Once in Hong Kong, Claire becomes the piano teacher for Locket, the daughter of Victor and Melody Chen. There she meets their driver, Will Truesdale, a handsome Brit with a mysterious past. Will and Claire embark on a tempestuous affair, but there are many elements of the society that Claire has entered into that she canít comprehend without understanding what happened in Hong Kong during World War II.
The Piano Teacher is a haunting, beautiful piece of literary fiction. The radiant words of Leeís poetic writing mellow the harsh realities she portrays in this novel. There were many atrocities committed during World War II, and Lee doesnít shy away from describing them to the reader. However, her gorgeous prose helps cloak the horror of what the reader is seeing, making it easier to deal with.
Claire is an interesting main character, lost in the quagmire of Hong Kong society. She is aware that mystery shrouds Willís past but isnít quite sure what happened. All she knows is that heís been unable to move on, that in some ways he still lives during those awful days of World War II. She finds herself at the center of whatís happening and doesnít quite know how to deal with it.
The mysteries in The Piano Teacher really arenít at the center of the novel, though. Instead, itís the brutality of World War II and the horrors of what happened to the people. As a result, the novel moves at a slow pace. This isnít a book to be read quickly; Leeís prose and story are to be savored.
Generally, the reader is held at armís-length from the characters in The Piano Teacher. Claire is the only person the reader really gets to know; even then, there isnít a lot of emotional involvement with her. Though this is a novel about people, the reader doesnít establish a real connection with any of the characters. As a result, it sometimes feels as if something is missing from this novel, since there is a sense of detachment.
A beautifully written historical novel about Hong Kong, I recommend The Piano Teacher to anyone interested in historical literary fiction. Leeís beautiful writing alone makes picking this book up worth the price, and as long as youíre in the mood for a languorous read, you will enjoy it.