Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Piano Teacher

I finished Janice Y. K. Lee's The Piano Teacher today and that's when it occurred to me that this book, like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, was also set during WWII.

I've always had a particular weakness for non-/fiction written by Asian authors - Chinese ones in particular because I'm curious about how the customs and beliefs I've grown up with and am used to thinking about in the Chinese language are articulated in English.

For example - the Chinese preoccupation with food.  In Chinese culture, one doesn't ask "how are you?" but "have you eaten?"  Maybe it comes from living through famines over the many centuries of Chinese civilization - the most recent one during Mao's misguided Great Leap Forward in which an estimated 30MM Chinese died.

Whenever I speak to my mother or aunts and uncles on the phone, they always ask if I've eaten yet.  Without fail.  And sometimes, I surprise myself with how Chinese I am and beat them to the punch by asking them first.  Lee references this fixation in the novel and I was mildly amused by it, despite the tragic context.

I'm a bit ambivalent about the was good but not great. And I think my next book will have to be contemporary in its setting - I need a break from the tragedies of WWII.

From the back cover:
In 1942, WIll Truesdale, an Englishman newly arrived in Hong Kong, falls passionately in love with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite.  But their affair is threatened by the invasion of the Japanese and World War II overwhelms their lives.

Ten years later, Claire Pendleton comes to Hong Kong and is hired by the wealthy Chen family as their daughter's piano teacher.  Seduced by the colony's heady social life, she soon begins an affair...only to discover that her lover is hiding a devastating past.  As the threads of this spellbinding novel intertwine, impossible choices emerge - between love and safety, courage and survival, the present, and, above all, the past.

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