Review: The Piano Teacher, by Janice Y. K. Lee.

So in ongoing preparation for this adventure, I’ve decided to read up on all things Asia. I felt woefully unprepared by both my education, as well as my personal reading for this trip because I’ve sadly read very little about this part of the world. I also miss my beloved book club back home in S.F. very much! So the first book I read was The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee, given to me so very kindly by my book club member Krissy on a list of recommended books about Hong Kong.

What I liked about it:

  • This is embarrassing to even admit, but I had NO clue what happened to Hong Kong during World War II. So as it turns out the British colony was occupied by the Japanese after 18 days of intense fighting by woefully under-manned British and Canadian troops. The Japanese then interned all of the expatriates for three years and 8 months. The best part of the book was feeling transported to Hong Kong during the forties and fifties–it switches back and forth, from past to present.
  • It’s always very interesting to read about who people become when their survival is threatened… some rise to the occasion and others are only capable of looking out for their own skin. You can’t help but wonder who you would become if war ever arrived on your doorstep.
  • I also, initially and only initially, related to the protagonist Claire Pendleton who has moved to Hong Kong from Britain for her husband’s job. Her initial impressions of the city were very similar to mine. Her descriptions of the Peak, the humidity, the markets, the intensity of street life… they all seem true decades later.
  • Claire is a piano teacher for a wealthy Chinese family that lives on May Road. I took that to be a major sign as the apartment we were looking at was also on May Road. I’m a big believer in signs, but in the end I don’t think that apartment was meant for us! It’s very crazy to think that in the fifties there was a large multi-story home and compound there. Now there are half a dozen sixty-story apartment high rises.
  • Being a romantic sap that gravitates towards the melancholy and depressing (the Mr. always comments on how all the music and movies I like are sad), I really appreciated how realistic the love stories were.

I noticed this memorial when walking through the HK Botanical Gardens the other day.

What I didn’t like about it:

  • Although there are pieces of great writing, at the end of the day I feel like this is more of a beach read / page turner than a great novel, which depending on what you’re looking for could be a good thing.
  • I think the characters were a little two-dimensional and although the book started off remarkably strong it seemed to peter off mid-way and ended unremarkably / predictably.

In short: 3.5 stars. It’s The Awakening meets The Painted Veil, both of which I really liked. Recommended for ladies looking to curl up on a rainy day with a romance that actually teaches you something about both world history and real-life relationships.

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3 responses to “Review: The Piano Teacher, by Janice Y. K. Lee.

  1. Book Club misses you too! I love the blog so far. Such a fun way to keep track of and share your Hong Kong adventures!

  2. Thanks for the shout out! Love your blog – looking forward to hearing more about your adventures.

  3. I second Caroline’s response!
    I am really enjoying your blog, and Love that we still get to hear about books while you are so far away!
    Thanks for sharing your adventure!!

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