The Piano Teacher: A Novel

Paperback | November 17, 2009

byJanice Y. K. Lee

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"A rare and exquisite story . . . Transports you out of time, out of place, into a world you can feel on your very skin." —Elizabeth Gilbert

Janice Y.K. Lee's latest novel, The Expatriates, is now available from Viking

The New York Times bestseller 

In the sweeping tradition of The English Patient, Janice Y.K. Lee's debut novel is a tale of love and betrayal set in war-torn Hong Kong. In 1942, Englishman Will Truesdale falls headlong into a passionate relationship with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite. But their affair is soon threatened by the invasion of the Japanese as World War II overwhelms their part of the world. Ten years later, Claire Pendleton comes to Hong Kong to work as a piano teacher and also begins a fateful affair. As the threads of this spellbinding novel intertwine, impossible choices emerge-between love and safety, courage and survival, the present, and above all, the past.

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From the Publisher

"A rare and exquisite story . . . Transports you out of time, out of place, into a world you can feel on your very skin." —Elizabeth GilbertJanice Y.K. Lee's latest novel, The Expatriates, is now available from Viking   The New York Times bestseller  In the sweeping tradition of The English Patient, Janice Y.K. Lee's debut novel is a t...

Janice Y. K. Lee was born and raised in Hong Kong and graduated from Harvard College. A former features editor at Elle and Mirabella magazines, she currently lives in Hong Kong with her husband and children.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:368 pages, 8.05 × 5.28 × 0.78 inPublished:November 17, 2009Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143116533

ISBN - 13:9780143116530

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Rated 2 out of 5 by from The Piano Teacher Talk about a yawn fest. The book was so boring to listen to that if I wasn't driving I would have probably fallen asleep. I should have listened to this as my bedtime story to lull me to sleep. The story had so little to do with Claire - the piano teacher - and more to do with Trudy and Will. I have to say that the only story line I found remotely interesting was Trudy's and would have maybe enjoyed this book more had it focused on her. But probably not because I didn't like her. None of the characters were likable and by the end I just felt frustrated and deflated.
Date published: 2015-03-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The Chauffer This book is only worth 2.5 stars ... and I'm not sure why it is called the Piano Teacher. The book centres around Will, the Chauffer and his life with Trudy before the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong; then his life with Claire, the Piano Teacher, post-occupation. There were a few twists, and the middle part of the book surrounding the occupation of Hong Kong was interesting. Apart from this, I found little redeeming about the characters, the plot or the ending. The book jumped around in time, both in years and in dates within years, which made it choppy and difficult to follow. I managed to get through it, but it never grabbed me, and I never really came to care about the characters or what happened to them, which made it a difficult read. Can't recommend this one.
Date published: 2014-08-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Book Review: The Piano Teacher by Janice YK Lee Follow Will and Trudy in their hey-days in 1940s, and now after the fact with Claire and Will in 1950s and find out what really happened years before on when the Japanese took over Hong Kong. Where did Trudy go? Why is Will so guarded? What Claire sees in Will? What were the Chens hiding?
Date published: 2012-05-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Hard to get hook upon DNF. Having a hard time getting though this book (02/10). I haven't found a good basis on which to draw upon.
Date published: 2010-04-06
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Has potential I think that Lee has a good sense for storytelling. I could certainly feel the depth of the characters caught up in the shallow, class-conscious lifestyles of the expat Europeans who love the instant prestige of living in Hong Kong. This is a flawed novel nevertheless. I felt that the strongest parts of the story were the parts that told of the experiences of the prisoners of war--these were the civilians who were held in Stanley Prison during the occupation of HK. The weakest part of the story was the resolution. The dark secrets seem to just unravel with no plot development or character involvement. I hope that Lee continues to write. Looking for a stronger novel the next time.
Date published: 2010-01-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Good Read Has a lot to do with the attack on Hong Kong by the Japanese and good people really hiding dark secrets.
Date published: 2009-12-17

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Read from the Book

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

Bookclub Guide

INTRODUCTIONMiss Wilma Mabry is the resident Piano Teacher of Swan's Knob, a small, quiet southern town where very little ever changes—that is until one pivotal week in which Swan's Know and Miss Wilma's life are turned inside out. Part character study, part mystery, The Piano Teacher combines elements of suspense and tragedy with honest, sometimes bittersweet meditations on humanity: our motivations, our actions, and the consequences of those actions.Over the years, Miss Wilma has taught piano to nearly all of the town's youth and intends to continue doing so as comfortably and quietly as she can. When her daughter Sarah and granddaughter Starling return home what can Miss Wilma do but enjoy the visit? However, when both Sarah's husband and her lover separately arrive in Swan's Knob, just hours after a murder has shaken this small community, Wilma's peaceful routine is threatened indefinitely.The other residents of Swan's Knob feel threatened as well—if not by the cold-blooded murder of resident lawman Clem Baker, then by the arrival of Miss Wilma's beatnik son-in-law Harper and Sarah's Native American lover, Jonah. Wilma, in the midst of her own budding romance with perennial bachelor Roy Swan, strives to keep her family together and safe while investigating the murder—a crime she has more ties to than she ever thought possible. With the aid of Roy, Wilma fights to clear both Harper and Jonah of suspicion in the murder and uncovers damaging and revelatory information about her one of her oldest friends, and adversaries, Lily Mae Strong. At the same time, Wilma struggles to bridge the ever-widening gap in her relationship with her daughter as Sarah tries to make one of the most important decisions of her life. Lynn York peoples the fictional town of Swan's Knob with a full cast of complex and compelling characters, and relays the events of their lives with graceful prose. The Piano Teacher is an engrossing tale of love, courage, transformation, and renewal. PRAISE FOR THE PIANO TEACHER"Eudora Welty meets Miss Marple in this sweet, sexy Southern tour de force. Literate and funny, The Piano Teacherannounces a brilliant future for debut novelist Lynn York." —Lee Smith, author of The Last Girls"This gentle, funny, remarkably sexy novel marks Lynn York as a writer of both force and delicacy. I adored the whole thing." —Haven Kimmel, author of The Solace of Leaving Early and A Girl Named Zippy ABOUT LYNN YORKLynn York was born and raised in North Carolina. Educated at Duke University and at the University of Texas at Austin, she lived in Washington, D.C., working in the international telecommunications industry until small children, the promise of decent vegetables and a yard with grass brought her back to North Carolina in 1995. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with her two children, Anna Lee and Will. AN INTERVIEW WITH LYNN YORKCreating an entire town from scratch is no small feat. What inspired you to create Swan's Knob? What kind of process did you go through to create the town's physical landscape, as well as its many residents?My family moved around quite a bit within the State of North Carolina while I was growing up—so Swan's Knob has a little piece of every place I've lived. However, I have to admit that the fictional town was mostly inspired by Pilot Mountain, NC (population 2,500). This is a beautiful hamlet in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains where my grandparents lived throughout my childhood. My own family moved to the town when I was ten, and I spent my adolescence there.Writing The Piano Teacher allowed me to revisit that experience—though I was guided less by the literal map of streets and houses than the landscape of my own memory. That meant that I felt free to borrow bits and pieces of Pilot Mountain and then imagine the rest. The Coach House Restaurant, for example, where Roy and Wilma go on their first date, was a real restaurant, my favorite place to eat growing up, through the space is now inhabited by a tanning salon. The items that populate small town social occasions- grosgrain bows and pound cake, Jell-O molds and dyed carnations—these are things that mark my particular experience, and it was so much fun to take them out (like fancy dinnerware) and use them again. Odd and seemingly random memories ended up in my book as well, like the fearful sight of the town's mortician passing by in his hearse that also doubled as an ambulance, though the red-headed father and son funeral directors of the novel, Randall and Randy Snow, are completely made-up characters.Once I had Miss Wilma, Swan's Knob seemed the natural place for her to live. I mined my memory and my imagination for the physical details that would help me tell the story. Often when I reached out for these things, an image or an occurrence that I had not recalled in years would surface. For example, early on in the novel, I had Miss Wilma standing out in front of her house in the dark watching the Snow's ambulance drive by. As I tried to decide just what might have happened to call the ambulance out, I remembered -- in the late sixties, during the time I lived in Pilot Mountain, two of the town's policemen were killed, an awful and gruesome event that shook the town for weeks. In this real life tragedy, the fate of poor Deputy Clem Baker was sealed, providing me with a confluence of events that would forever change Wilma's life.After I had written most of the novel, I looked up the newspaper accounts of the murders, and of course, the actual story is entirely different from my own. Those brave policemen in Pilot Mountain were family men, mourned by wives and children. They were killed by young men from the other side of the state out on a crime spree, who were caught just a few hours later. Still, the occurrence of such an event was a natural springboard that allowed me to explore not only the inner workings of a single family, but the dynamics of an entire community.Wilma is a strong female protagonist, although she does not appear to be one at the book's onset. Did you map out her development, or the development of other characters such as Sarah, or did the characters surprise you in any ways?I wish I could give you a good roadmap about exactly how I came to transform Miss Wilma from the buttoned-up piano teacher worried even about the marks she's made on her students' sheet music into the woman, who in the end, subdues a murderer with a kick of her Aigner pump. In truth, once I created her, she surprised me at every turn.I do know that initially she was inspired by a piano teacher that I had as a child. This teacher was a fixture in our town and one of those strict, steely-eyed people who can strike terror in the heart of any child (or grown-up, for that matter). Miss Wilma's best student, James (I've forgotten his real name), had the lesson time just before mine on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. James was a wonderful pianist, and on some days, I could almost put aside my own terror and simply enjoy his playing. I noticed over the course of the year that James was preparing to go to college as a music major and perhaps for that reason, Miss Wilma was as mean (if not meaner) to him than she was to me.As I began to write about this teacher, I remembered a particular lesson time in the spring—just before James was to go for his music scholarship audition. On this day, the day when Miss Wilma was having the young man do his final run-through, I arrived at my lesson to find that Miss Wilma was entirely changed. There was not one ounce of meanness in her. She was completely in a dither—I can remember her eyes fluttering—she seemed to alternate between girlish excitement and nervous mothering. James had his family's old, old, station wagon parked out front and Miss Wilma kept asking him, "Do you have enough gas? Do you have money? Oh, do you have your sheet music?" Understand—I was ten, maybe eleven at the time, but there was something about that moment that seemed important to me. I was seeing something rare and unknown in this person whom I thought I knew through and through.For whatever reason, it was this powerful memory that came to me when I began to write the first scene about Miss Wilma. In about an hour, I wrote three short pages that were the beginning of my novel. Of course, by the time I got to the bottom of the first page, the Miss Wilma I was writing about was not the real Miss Wilma, but someone else altogether, a character with a life, a history, a personality all her own. However, Miss Wilma Mabry -- the life of the character -- was born in the memory of that particular moment and somehow propelled forward by it. The scene itself—those first three pages—survive in the novel (much revised, of course) as the beginning of Chapter 2, which begins exactly as I began that first sketch: "Of all Miss Wilma's students, James Moody was the prize…"Everything in The Piano Teacher grew from that first scene: the other characters, their relationships with Miss Wilma, the town of Swan's Knob, and even the plot. All of these things were really a function of Miss Wilma's character, an outgrowth of it. During the time I was writing the book and to this day, I think of her mostly as a real person—in much the way you might think of a beloved aunt who has long ago passed away. You can no longer actually touch her, have a conversation together, but you can fully imagine a conversation with her about any topic, you can remember exactly her touch, and she might also, as Wilma did, visit you in your dreams and lecture you about the state of your wardrobe.I don't think I'm the first writer to say that once you've found a character like Wilma Mabry, you do best to just sit back and enjoy the ride.Do you have a background in music or did you have to do a great deal of research to be able to portray Wilma and Harper's musical expertise? I was a student of music from about third grade all the way through high school—I took piano lessons, sang in the church choir, and yes, marched in the high school band with my clarinet. I enjoyed all of these things, but I don't think any of my music teachers would say that I was their "prize" student. In fact, I make a little cameo appearance, along with my sister, in the book in Chapter 6. Like the two twins, whom Harper calls "Plink" and "Plunk," we took piano lessons together for a short (very short) time. This required us to play the lesson piece in unison, sitting side by side on the piano bench -- a recipe for endless bickering, and of course, I was always the one that messed up …These days I am simply a lover of music—and I live in an area of the country where we have a variety of live music from old-time music to jazz, gospel to Handel. I made a special point of getting myself to lots of performances while I was writing the book, and I tried to sit up close so that I could remind myself just what it feels like to be a performer. Since I no longer play music myself, it was fun to be able to choose music for my characters—the wedding music, the hymns, and especially, James Moody's recital piece. Chopin's "Revolutionary" Etude is one of my favorite piano pieces. I was never skilled enough to play such a thing, so it was fun to write about someone else playing it so perfectly.One of my favorite scenes in the book is the one where Harper and Sarah are having a heated conversation, and Harper begins to hear argument as some kind of jazz improvisation—"He was up to jam, man, he was launched. He just had to follow the changes right on out there, dwouda-dwoodle-dee-dee …" (page 218). As I was writing that chapter, I tried to hear the conversation like Harper would hear it—trumpet riffs and all. I called up a musician friend of mine when I was finished and read it to him. Now that was an interesting phone call—the two of us scat singing, trying out different combinations of letters to get the feeling of music down in words (if you can call "dwouda" and "dwoodle" words).Key characters in The Piano Teacher undergo some sort of transformation over the course of the novel and as a result, at the novel's end, both Wilma and Sarah are taking "second chances" at romances. Why was this theme important to you?I am a big believer in second chances, and third and fourth—and that applies to romance and just about every aspect of life. Because my family moved around a bit as I was growing up, I had the chance to reinvent myself—new attitude, new hairdo, new interests - in each new place. I had varying degrees of success. In one town, I'd be a complete dud because I was a bad soccer player, in another, I'd be a social butterfly because I was a decent swimmer or I'd be wildly popular when the most popular girl took me under her wing. I think this experience in my childhood made me a bit more open to change in my adult life. I've worked at a number of jobs—publishers' rep, marketing manager, consultant, accountant, construction project manager—and I lived in Dallas, Austin, and Washington, DC before coming home to North Carolina. After a while, it sunk in that life was full of bends in the road, and I guess that I have made a standing bet that around the bend, there just might be a great new job (like writing novels …) or a wonderful new beau.And as for that second chance at romance, I have to confess that the trials and preoccupations of my life do sometimes make their way into my writing. I wrote The Piano Teacher during a sad period when I was going through a divorce, so as I imagined Wilma and Sarah getting their second chances at romance, I think I was reminding myself that I might eventually get my chance as well. I am certain that there is a Roy—or wow, maybe even a Jonah -- out there for me.Will we see more novels about the residents of Swan's Knob? Will Wilma and Roy play any part in them?I am happy to report that Wilma and Roy are alive (fictionally, at least) and well (for the moment) and living in Swan's Knob. I am busy working on a second Swan's Knob book that takes place about ten years after the events in The Piano Teacher. DISCUSSION QUESTIONS"The whole thing got off to a bad start when Miss Wilma unceremoniously ran over a squirrel in the Strongs' driveway, right in front of the porch" (page 1). So opens The Piano Teacher. The death of the squirrel is not only a tragicomic beginning to Martha Strong's wedding, but to the novel as a whole. Discuss how foreshadowing is used to reveal Sarah's pregnancy or Lily's affair with Clem. Where else is foreshadowing used effectively in the book? How does York use levity to counter moments of tension or tragedy in the novel? Fictional Swan's Knob is a small, rural southern town. Harper, comparing it to Greenwich Village and Sante Fe, finds it lacking in many respects. Sarah returns to Swan's Knob to reflect and rest. Wilma finds it claustrophobic at several points in the novel. Discuss how each character's sense of place affects your impression of Swan's Knob. Both Wilma and Harper are musicians—Wilma teaches music and Harper researches it. Compare and contrast the role music plays in their respective lives. Is there any similarity between Wilma and Harper apart from their expertise in music, particularly in relation to Sarah? Jonah's arrival in Swan's Knob causes a stir in the town, and affects the dynamic of Wilma's suddenly large and bustling household. Discuss Jonah and Harper's interaction in Wilma's kitchen (chapters 4 & 5) and what this scene conveys about their characters. How does York avoid stereotyping in her depiction of the Native American Jonah and the womanizing Harper? What kind of reaction does the town have to Jonah's arrival? Are there undercurrents of racism evident in their behavior, or would the townspeople be suspicious of any stranger who appeared on the eve of a murder? Analyze Sarah's mental state as conveyed through her actions on the day she spends by herself, from the moment she drives off in Wilma's LTD in the middle of the night, to her breakfast in the TipTop Diner, to her break-in at the home in the mountains. What important information do we learn about Sarah? What kind of a woman is she? How does she compare to her mother? Discuss Sarah's relationship with Harper: in particular, Harper's betrayal of Sarah in New York City and the subsequent conception of Starling. What motivated Sarah to stay with Harper? Commitment? Guilt? Passivity? Parenting is central to this novel. Discuss how its ramifications are explored in light of the following relationships: Wilma and Sarah; Harry and Sarah; Sarah and Starling; Harper and Starling; Harry's father and Lily Mae; Harry's father and Harry. What imprint has Harry's suicide left on Wilma and Sarah? Discuss the factors that drove him to shoot himself—his relationship (innocent or incestuous?) with Lily Strong, the loss of his business, and his alcoholism. How differently did Wilma handle this first tumultuous chain of events, compared to her actions in the present-day? Roy has obviously been enamored of Wilma for years, but for Wilma the romance comes "after fifteen years of nothing, fifteen years of not even thinking about any living man on earth. She was totally unprepared" (page 173). Discuss the development of Wilma's romance with Roy Swan. She rebuffs his initial advances, and then falls for him after their date at The Coach House. What characterizes the courtship that ensues? Compare Wilma's relationship with Roy to Sarah's relationships with Harper and Jonah. "It was all new, her life, completely new and hard somehow—she had to admit that, hard—because everything, everything would have to be formed again" (page 195). How does this passage (intended to describe the effect of Roy's kiss) encompass all of Wilma's relationships? What new relationship does she form with Sarah? With Starling? With Lily Mae? And even though he's been gone for fifteen years, to what extent does Wilma alter her relationship with Harry? How does Wilma transform herself over the course of the novel? Does she become stronger, more competent, less fragile, more flexible? Has she always possessed these qualities or does she merely change the way people perceive her? Discuss Lily Mae Strong and her actions throughout the novel. Is Avery Spivey the real villain of the novel, or is she? Does she "suffer enough" with the death of her paramour? Or is justice really served with the arrest of Avery? The car ride to the courthouse pits Wilma against Clem's killer and, in a way, allows Sarah and Wilma to come to terms with one another. How does their relationship change at this point? Does Wilma damage the "new" relationship when she accidentally acknowledges Sarah's pregnancy in front of Harper? Discuss Roy's decision to keep his suspicions about Harry and Lily from Wilma. In light of the implication of incest and Wilma's adoration of her deceased husband, his silence could be considered a kindness; yet, with regards to Roy and Wilma's burgeoning romance, his secrecy might also be perceived as a betrayal. What implications does this act have upon the end of the novel? Does The Piano Teacher have a "happy" ending?

Editorial Reviews

"Riveting . . . This season's Atonement." —Elle   "Laced with intrigue." —The New York Times Book Review, “Editor’s Choice”   "Evocative, poignant, and skillfully crafted, The Piano Teacher is more than an epic tale of war and a tangled, tortured love story. It is the kind of novel one consumes in great, greedy gulps, pausing (grudgingly) only when absolutely necessary. . . . If we measure the skill of a fiction writer by her ability to create characters and atmosphere so effortlessly real, so alive on the page, that the reader feels a sense of participatory anxiety—as if the act of reading gives one the power to somehow influence the outcome of purely imaginary events—then Lee should be counted among the very best in recent memory." —Chicago Tribune   "A shattering, immensely satisfying debut." —People (4 stars)   "War, love, betrayal—an exquisite fugue of a first novel . . . intensely readable." —O, The Oprah Magazine   "Lee unfolds the story with the brisk grace and discretion of the society she describes." —The New Yorker   "Sensual and gripping." —Good Housekeeping   “Janice Lee delivers a standout debut.” ­—The Boston Globe   "The novel is sustained by elegant prose and a terrific sense of place. As Graham Greene evoked Vietnam in The Quiet American, Lee, born and raised in Hong Kong long after the war, captures the city as it was during World War II, its glittering veneer barely masking the panic and corruption beneath." —The Miami Herald   “A compelling portrait of the devastating choices people make in order to survive.” —TimeOut New York   "Lee tells two engrossing love stories. . . . Just hide your phone before cracking this one open—or risk calling your ex." —Marie Claire   "Lee delivers a standout debut [with] layers of intrigue and more than a few unexpected twists." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)   "A lush examination of East-West relations." —Kirkus Reviews   “Lee has created the sort of interesting, complex characters, especially in Trudy, that drive a rich and intimate look at what happens to people under extraordinary circumstances.” —Booklist   "A rare and exquisite story. It does exactly what a great novel should do—transports you out of time, out of place, into a world you can feel in your very own skin." —Elizabeth Gilbert   "One of the most insightful, elegant, and atmospheric novels I’ve read in a long time. Janice Lee is nothing short of brilliant and her novel is impossible to put down." —Gary Shteyngart   "Rarely does one encounter a debut work as beguiling and assured as Janice Lee’s The Piano Teacher. Rich with intrigue, romance, and betrayal, this wonderfully written, utterly captivating novel dazzles with its sharp-eyed renderings of beau monde Hong Kong as it is plunged into the crucible of war. With its fascinating interplay of East and West and wide cast of effervescent characters . . . this is a truly transporting—and indeed irresistible—work of fiction." —Chang-Rae Lee   “Compelling . . . A persuasive re-creation of a time and place.” —Penelope Lively