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The Piano Teacher

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The Piano Teacher Cover

ISBN13: 9780143116530
ISBN10: 0143116533
Condition: Standard
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Excerpt

Reprinted by arrangement with Viking / Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from THE PIANO TEACHER Copyright © Janice Y.K. Lee, 2009

May 1952

It started as an accident. The small Herend rabbit had fallen into Claire’s purse. It had been on the piano and she had been gathering up the sheet music at the end of the lesson when she knocked it off. It fell off the doily (a doily! on the Steinway!) and into her large leather bag. What had happened after that was perplexing, even to her. Locket had been staring down at the keyboard and hadn’t noticed. And then, Claire had just . . . left. It wasn’t until she was downstairs and waiting for the bus that she grasped what she had done. And then it had been too late. She went home and buried the expensive porcelain figurine under her sweaters.

Claire and her husband had moved to Hong Kong nine months ago, transferred by the government, which had posted Martin at the Department of Water Services. Churchill had ended rationing and things were starting to return to normal when they had received news of the posting. She had never dreamed of leaving England before.

Martin was an engineer, overseeing the building of the Tai Lam Cheung reservoir, so that there wouldn’t need to be so much rationing when the rains ebbed, as they did every several years. It was to hold four and a half billion gallons of water when full. Claire almost couldn’t imagine such a number, but Martin said it was barely enough for the people of Hong Kong, and he was sure that by the time they were finished, they’d have to build another. “More work for me,” he said cheerfully. He was analyzing the topography of the hills so that they could install catchwaters for when the rain came. The English government did so much for the colonies, Claire knew. They made the locals’ lives much better but they rarely appreciated it. Her mother had warned her about the Chinese before she left— an unscrupulous, conniving people who would surely try to take advantage of her innocence and goodwill.

Coming over, she had noticed it for days, the increasing wetness in the air, even more than usual. The sea breezes were stronger and the sunrays more powerful when they broke through cloud. When the P&O Canton finally pulled into Hong Kong harbor in August, she really felt she was in the tropics, hair frizzing up in curls, face always slightly damp and oily, the constant moisture under her arms and knees. When she stepped from her cabin outside, the heat assailed her like a physical blow, until she managed to find shade and fan herself.

There had been seven stops along the month-long journey, but after a few grimy hours spent in Algiers and Port Said, Claire had decided to stay onboard rather than encounter more frightening peoples and customs. She had never imagined such sights. In Algiers, she had seen a man kiss a donkey and she couldn’t discern whether the high odor was coming from one or the other, and in Egypt, the markets were the very definition of unhygienic—a fishmonger gutting a fish had licked the knife clean with his tongue. She had inquired as to whether the ship’s provisions were procured locally, at these markets, and the answer had been most unsatisfactory. An uncle had died from food poisoning in India, making her cautious. She kept to herself and sustained herself mostly on the beef tea they dispensed in the late morning on the sun deck. The menus that were distributed every day were mundane: turnips, potatoes, things that could be stored in the hold, with meat and salads the first few days after port. Martin promenaded on the deck every morning for exercise and tried to get her to join him, to no avail. She preferred to sit in a deck chair with a large brimmed hat and wrap herself in one of the scratchy wool ship blankets, face shaded from the omnipresent sun.

There had been a scandal on the ship. A woman, going to meet her fiancé in Hong Kong, had spent one too many moonlit nights on the deck with another gentleman and had disembarked in the Philippines with her new man, leaving only a letter for her intended. Liesel, the girlfriend to whom the woman had entrusted the letter, grew visibly more nervous as the date of arrival drew near. Men joked that she could take Sarah’s place, but she wasn’t having any of that. Liesel was a serious young woman who was joining her sister and brother-in-law in Hong Kong, where she intended to educate Unfortunate Chinese Girls in Art: when she held forth on it, it was always with capital letters in Claire’s mind.

Before disembarking, Claire separated out all of her thin cotton dresses and skirts; she could tell that was all she would be wearing for a while. They had arrived to a big party on the dock, with paper streamers and loud, shouting vendors selling fresh fruit juice and soy milk drinks and garish flower arrangements to the people waiting. Groups of revelers had already broken out the champagne and were toasting the arrival of their friends and family.

“We pop them as soon as we see the boat on the horizon,” a man explained to his girl as he escorted her off the boat. “It’s a big party. We’ve been here for hours.” Claire watched Liesel go down the gangplank, looking very nervous, and then she disappeared into the throng. Claire and Martin went down next, treading on the soft, humid wood, luggage behind them carried by two scantily clad young Chinese boys who had materialized out of nowhere.

Martin had an old school friend, John, who worked at Dodwell’s, one of the trading firms, who had promised to greet the ship. He came with two friends and offered the new arrivals freshly squeezed guava drinks. Claire pretended to sip at hers, as her mother had warned her about the cholera that was rampant in these parts. The men were bachelors and very pleasant. John, Nigel, Leslie. They explained that they all lived together in a mess—there were many, known by their companies, Dodwell’s Mess, Jardine’s Mess, et cetera, and they assured Claire and Martin that Dodwell’s threw the best parties around.

They accompanied them to the government-approved hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui, where a Chinese man with a long queue, dirty white tunic, and shockingly long fingernails showed them to their room. They made an arrangement to meet for tiffin the next day and the men departed, leaving Martin and Claire sitting on the bed, exhausted and staring at one another. They didn’t know each other that well. They had been married barely four months.

She had accepted Martin’s proposal to escape the dark interior of her house, her bitter mother railing against everything, getting worse, it seemed, with her advancing age, and an uninspiring job as a filing girl at an insurance company. Martin was older, in his forties, and had never had luck with women. The first time he kissed her, she had to stifle the urge to wipe her mouth. He was like a cow, slow and steady. And kind. She knew this. She was grateful for it.

She had not had many chances with men. Her parents stayed home all the time, and so she had as well. When she had started seeing Martin—he was the older brother of one of the girls at work—she had eaten dinner at restaurants, drunk a cocktail at a hotel bar, and seen other young women and men talking, laughing with an assurance she could not fathom. They had opinions about politics; they had read books she had never heard of and seen foreign films and talked about them with such confidence. She was enthralled and not a little intimidated. And then Martin had come to her, serious, his job was taking him to the Orient, and would she come with him? She was not so attracted to him, but who was she to be picky, she thought, hearing the voice of her mother. She let him kiss her and nodded yes.

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Average customer rating based on 4 comments:

emmejo, September 5, 2013 (view all comments by emmejo)
In 1941 Will arrives in Hong Kong and is swept into the elaborate social swirl where he meets beautiful, wealthy Trudy Liang and they begin an intense romance that is fractured and complicated by WWII.

A decade later, Claire arrives in Hong Kong to work for a family as their daughter's piano teacher and finds herself in the midst of a scandal left by Trudy and Will.

This book was a quick, engaging read, but none of the characters appealed to me. I can deal with that pretty well, focusing on the historical events and culture clash, but those who expect a character-driven story to involve likable characters will probably be frustrated.

Lee does an excellent job crafting this world, showing the many different circles of the societies that different characters move in.
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Prentise Wylie, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by Prentise Wylie)
Similar to "The Splendor of Silence" in its history of world war in 1942 affecting the "foreign" countries that British and Americans are living in ("Spendor" in Burma and India; "Piano Teacher" in Hong Kong) and the relations between people of different variations on the human race, this book also deeply conveys the moral, spiritual, social, cultural, sexual, political, government, economic, housing, and food practices, beliefs, and conflicts of various peoples.

I found the characters and story line vivid and believable, the dialogue natural, and the punctuation excellent (there are so many books with bad punctuation that detracts from the reading, that this is worth mentioning).

It is so wonderful to experience culture and history through the bodies and minds of seemingly real characters, so that we feel the truth of that history and culture, those people, in a way that carries on through time into our own present reality.
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Lindsay Waite, August 9, 2012 (view all comments by Lindsay Waite)
I read this book quickly because I wanted to know how it ended (not usually the case). The Piano Teacher was interesting to me from the historical perspective. I knew little about Japan and the Chinese during WWII, and this book, set in Hong Kong, was an eye-opener. I liked the fact that the book moved between the early 1940s and 1950s, showing certain characters in both time frames. What fell flat for me was the development of Claire. Had there been more of a back story to explain her restlessness, pilfering, and her life after Will, I think it would have been more meaningful to me.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780143116530
Author:
Lee, Janice
Publisher:
Penguin Books
Author:
Lee, Janice Y. K.
Author:
Moyes, Jojo
Author:
Mones, Nicole
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Subject:
Historical
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20091131
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
from 12
Language:
English
Pages:
288
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in 1 lb
Age Level:
from 18

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The Piano Teacher Used Trade Paper
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$0.95 In Stock
Product details 288 pages Penguin Books - English 9780143116530 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , From the author of The Last Chinese Chef, a love story between a black musician and a gangster's translator set against Shanghais dazzling jazz age and the looming menace of World War II, and "a rich and thoroughly captivating read." (Gail Tsukiyama, author of The Samurais Garden)
"Synopsis" by ,
From the New York Times–bestselling author of Me Before You, a spellbinding love story of two women separated by a century but united in their determination to fight for what they love most

Jojo Moyess bestseller, Me Before You, catapulted her to wide critical acclaim and has struck a chord with readers everywhere. “Hopelessly and hopefully romantic” (Chicago Tribune), Moyes returns with another irresistible heartbreaker that asks, “Whatever happened to the girl you left behind?”

France, 1916:  Artist Edouard Lefevre leaves his young wife, Sophie, to fight at the front. When their small town falls to the Germans in the midst of World War I, Edouards portrait of Sophie draws the eye of the new Kommandant. As the officers dangerous obsession deepens, Sophie will risk everything—her family, her reputation, and her life—to see her husband again.

Almost a century later, Sophies portrait is given to Liv Halston by her young husband shortly before his sudden death. A chance encounter reveals the paintings true worth, and a battle begins for who its legitimate owner is—putting Livs belief in what is right to the ultimate test.

Like Sarah Blakes The Postmistress and Tatiana de Rosnays Sarahs Key, The Girl You Left Behind is a breathtaking story of love, loss, and sacrifice told with Moyess signature ability to capture our hearts with every turn of the page.

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