Janice Y.K. Lee’s first novel, “The Piano Teacher” takes place in Hong Kong during and after the 1941 Japanese invasion. The story begins in 1952 as Claire Pendelton, newly married, has arrived in Hong Kong with her British husband who has just been posted at the Department of Water Service. Claire decides to take a job as a piano teacher to the daughter of a wealthy, socially connected Chinese couple, Melody and Victor Chen. At the Chen’s Claire becomes acquainted with a fellow Brit, Will Truesdale, who is employed as the Chen’s chauffer.
Claire knew when she married Martin that she was not in love with him but it seemed like the right thing to do. The affair between Claire and Will takes on a life of its own as the story goes back in time to 1941. Will Truesdale had just arrived in Hong Kong. The British expatriates were seduced by Hong Kong, the parties, the life style, the overall lack of boundaries. Will fell in love with Trudy Liang, the beautiful daughter of a Portuguese mother and a wealthy Chinese businessman. Trudy was captivating, charming, and totally in charge. But six months after Will met Trudy, the Japanese invaded Hong Kong.
The author brings to life the tremendous turmoil that took over the residents of Hong Kong in 1941. The Japanese forced the privileged Brits and Americans into internment camps. The Chinese residents were forced to find ways to survive. And Trudy Liang was above all, a survivor.
The story flips from 1952 to 1941 as Claire attempts to understand the reticence and sadness behind the enigmatic Will Truesdale. What happened to the characters who lived in Hong Kong as the Japanese invaded is an intriguing story of war, love and betrayal. What happened to Claire Pendelton as she unravels this story is life transforming.
Janice Y.K. Lee has written a compelling first novel. Her writing is sparse and riveting. The story brings a time and place in history to life. The author, who was raised in Hong Kong, uses this intriguing story to show how deeply scarred the inhabitants of Hong Kong, both native and expatriate, were by the Japanese invasion.