The Piano Teacher paints the picture of life for colonists and natives of Korea before, during, and after the Japanese invasion and occupation of World War II. The author, Janice Y.K. Lee, describes all aspects of life from the varying perspectives of British citizens to those of Korean natives. The text is uniquely tells the story of pre-war class and race struggles among people living in Hong Kong, and slowly becomes more about similar suffering after war changing everything. Using two stories, one before the war, and one after, the author eventually overlaps people, places, memories, and experiences, as past and present submerge.
Through depictions of Trudy, a wealthy Hong Kong woman, Will Truesdale, her lover and well-off British national, and Victor Chen, Trudy’s corrupt and influential relative, a magical and exotic world of privilege comes to life through partying, dancing, drinking, eating, and love. Although Lee presents the reader with images of life and relations among people in colonized Hong Kong, the focus of her scenes before the war is the dissection of the eccentric and passionate relationship between Will and Trudy.
Post-war, in the same country but another time and place, Claire, a beautiful and inexperienced blonde, recently married and arrived from Britain, is forced to take a job teaching piano to the daughter of the wealthiest man in Hong Kong, Victor Chen. Soon she meets Will and they begin an affair. When the reader realizes begins to decipher clues in Will’s personality and actions towards Claire, a need to know what happened to Trudy and Will causes intrigue.
As both stories are told separately, the reader pieces together clues and finds similar people in both time periods. The difference is the woman with whom Will spends his time. There exists dramatic irony in the fact that the islanders and reader know many things Claire does not. As the story of the past progresses into the time of Japanese invasion and occupation, the results economically, physically, and emotionally are portrayed in grave detail. People from all over the world, of different races and classes suffer together. Ten years later, those who experienced the trauma with Will, begin to provide Claire information about his secret anger and pain; he lost Trudy.
Lee provides a novel which not only supplies fascinating characters, she also provides insight for readers of the English language into the way South East Asian countries colonized by enemies of the Japanese lived, defended, and coped with attacks on their countries and people. This multi-faceted text will entertain and astonish a variety of readers.