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The Piano Tuner: A Novel

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The Piano Tuner: A Novel Cover

 

 

Reading Group Guide

1. In briefing Edgar Drake about Anthony Carroll, Colonel Killian tells him, “there are men who get lost in the rhetoric of our imperial destiny, that we conquer not to gain land and wealth but to spread culture and civilization” [p. 18]. Is this true of Carroll? Is he motivated to spread Western culture, via music, to the East? Is it true of Edgar? What does the novel suggest about the purpose of imperialism?

2. Why does Edgar decide to accept a mission to travel thousands of miles to tune a piano in a remote and dangerous jungle at the furthest outreaches of the British Empire? Why does his wife, Katherine, encourage him to go?

3. Why is Anthony Carroll viewed with such a mixture of reverence and suspicion by the British military? In what ways does his behavior defy convention?

4. As he contemplates his voyage to Burma, Edgar views London on a foggy night: “He could see the vague line of the shore, the vast, heavy architecture that crowded the river. Like animals at a waterhole, he thought, and he liked the comparison” [p. 23]. Why is this a particularly apt simile for Edgar to use at this moment? Where else in the novel does Mason reveal the depth of Edgars consciousness through his impressions?

5. Edgar writes to Katherine that the “entire trip has already coated itself in a veneer of seeming, a dreamlikeness” [p. 146]. In what ways is this true? What gives Edgars experiences an otherworldly quality? What role do his dreams play in the novel?

6. During the tiger hunt, Captain Witherspoon spots some egrets and asks if he can shoot them. “Not here,” Captain Dalton tells him. “The egrets are part of the founding myths of Pegu. Bad luck to shoot them, my friend.” To which Witherspoon replies, “Superstitious nonsense. . . . I thought we were educating them to abandon such beliefs” [p. 94]. What does this exchange suggest about the British attitude toward colonial subjects in Burma? About the cultural differences between the British and Burmese?

7. What is the significance of the boy to whom Edgar gives a coin being accidentally shot by Captain Witherspoon? Why does Edgar refer to the coin as “a symbol of responsibility, of misplaced munificence, a reminder of mistakes, and so a talisman” [p. 104]? In what sense does Edgar inherit the boys “fortune”?

8. How is Edgar perfectly suited to the task set for him by Anthony Carroll? How do his dreaminess, his propensity for getting lost, his clumsiness, and his political naïveté all serve Carrolls ends?

9. After hes been away from London for several months, Edgar writes to Katherine that he has changed, although, he admits “What this change means I dont know, just as I dont know if I am happier or sadder than I have ever been.” He also says, “There is a purpose in all of this . . . although I do not know yet what it is” [p. 252]. How has Edgar changed? What has changed him? What is his real purpose in Burma?

10. What kind of woman is Khin Myo? Is her attraction to Edgar real or feigned? What is her relationship to Anthony Carroll? How is she related to the woman with the parasol at the beginning and end of the story? Is she, as Nash-Burnham suggests in the ghostly conversation in the guardhouse, Edgars “creation,” a part of his “imaginings” [p.302]?

11. Music is a recurring theme in The Piano Tuner, from the hauntingly beautiful song the Man with One Story hears in the desert, to the love ditty Anthony Carroll plays on a flute to fend off attackers in the jungle, to the Bach fugue Edgar plays for the sawbwa, to the call of insects scraping their wings in the jungle. What roles does music play in the novel? How does it affect its listeners? What is its ultimate importance in the story?

12. After Edgar escapes from the guardhouse, he reads the note that Carroll had given him—a passage from his translation of The Odyssey about the Lotus-Eaters who “forget the way home” [p. 310]. In what ways has Edgar “tasted” of the lotus? Why does he find Burma so alluring? What does the lotus signify in this context?

13. Why does Edgar cut the piano loose from its moorings and send it down the Salween River in a rainstorm? In what way is this striking image—a grand piano floating downriver on an unmanned raft and being “played” by the rain—suggestive of the novels larger themes?

14. What accounts for The Piano Tuners elusive, hard-to-pin-down quality? What remains mysterious after the book is finished? How does Masons prose style contribute to the sense of ambiguity that pervades the novel?

15. At the end of the novel, Captain Nash-Burnham tells Edgar that Anthony Carroll is a traitor to England and suggests a number of possible roles for the Doctor: “Anthony Carroll is an agent working for Russia, He is a Shan nationalist, He is a French spy, Anthony Carroll wants to build his own kingdom in the jungles of Burma” [p. 301]. Edgar thinks Carroll is a genius and a peacemaker. Which of these interpretations is correct? Does the novel present enough evidence to decide?

16. Why does Mason begin and end the novel with the image of the sun and a parasol? What symbolic or cultural values might these images represent?

17. What does the novel as a whole suggest about the British Empire—its effects on colonized peoples and on those who try to rule them—in the late nineteenth century? How is this historical portrait relevant to our own time and the political and cultural conflicts between the West and the

Middle East?

18. The Piano Tuner participates in a tradition of literary works that try to fathom colonized cultures vastly different from the authors own. What features does Daniel Masons novel share with such predecessors as E. M. Forsters A Passage to India, Joseph Conrads Heart of Darkness, or George Orwells “Shooting an Elephant”? How is it different from these works?

Product Details

ISBN:
9781400077717
Publisher:
Vintage Books
Subject:
Literary
Author:
Mason, Daniel
Author:
Gaines, Ernest J.
Author:
Daniel Mason
Subject:
Fiction-Literary
Subject:
Fiction : Literary
Subject:
Historical - General
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Burma
Subject:
Piano technicians
Subject:
British
Subject:
Historical fiction
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Subject:
main_subject
Subject:
all_subjects
Publication Date:
20030819
Binding:
ELECTRONIC
Language:
English
Pages:
336

Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Romance » General

The Piano Tuner: A Novel
0 stars - 0 reviews
$ In Stock
Product details 336 pages Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group - English 9781400077717 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Excellent....[Mason's] powerful prose style and his ability to embrace history, politics, nature and medicine...[is] astonishing."
"Review" by , "Daniel Mason's ambitious, lyrical The Piano Tuner...[possesses] genuine moments of ominous beauty....Readers...should be intrigued by the mix of historical detail, lush settings, and equally lush language."
"Review" by , "A smart, entertaining adventure."
"Review" by , "Richly imagined, The Piano Tuner winds like a lazy river, carrying the reader into the mythic land of Kipling and Conrad."
"Review" by , "Mason proves himself equally adept at scenes of wry humor and moments of rapture; most remarkable, he has written a profound adventure story with an unexpected climax, as the mild piano tuner finally becomes the hero of his own life."
"Review" by , "[A] seductive and lyrical novel that probes the brutalities and compromises of colonization, even as it celebrates the elusive powers of music and the imagination."
"Review" by , "Luminous....Mason's writing achieves that kind of reverie in which every vision, tone, flavor and sensation is magnified."
"Review" by , "This is an utterly involving first novel, rich in historical detail and as lulling as Burma itself. Mason's language is at once tropically lush and as precise as a Bach prelude."
"Review" by , "An extraordinary piece of work. The Piano Tuner is a novel of journeys and the shifting grounds of perception, but at heart it is a story of the human urge to be absorbed fully into life, to cease to be a bystander, to be thrust into the essential dreamscape of human strivings. Daniel Mason's debut is shining and striking. He transported me thoroughly, well beyond the initial reading. Days later, the scenes shift and stir and agitate within me. This is writing of deep potency and resonance. Of beauty and pain and all things in between."
"Synopsis" by , In 1886, piano tuner Edgar Drake leaves his quiet life in London for the jungles of Burma, where he has been asked to repair a rare Erard grand piano belonging to a British army surgeon-major who uses the piano and music to help keep the peace among warring local Burmese princes. A first novel. Reprint. 125,000 first printing.
"Synopsis" by , In 1886 a shy, middle-aged piano tuner named Edgar Drake receives an unusual commission from the British War Office: to travel to the remote jungles of northeast Burma and there repair a rare piano belonging to an eccentric army surgeon who has proven mysteriously indispensable to the imperial design. From this irresistible beginning, The Piano Tuner launches its protagonist into a world of seductive loveliness and nightmarish intrigue. And as he follows Drake’s journey, Mason dazzles readers with his erudition, moves them with his vibrantly rendered characters, and enmeshes them in the unbreakable spell of his storytelling.
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