“The Piano Teacher” by Janice Y. K. Lee is an unusual novel about love and betrayal, set in Hong Kong during and after World War II. Claire, a homely spinster, marries in her native England, but not for love.
When she comes to Hong Kong with her husband in 1951, she offers to teach piano to the young daughter of one of the city’s wealthiest Chinese families. At their home she meets Will, an Englishman working as a chauffeur.
While her countrymen wilt, Claire flourishes in Hong Kong. Her skin glistens in its lush, humid air, and reborn in her newly slender body, she risks an affair with the enigmatic Will. But she begins to understand that Hong Kong under Japanese occupation has not been so kind to those around her.
In flashbacks, the reader learns Will’s story. Arriving in Hong Kong in 1941, he was immediately ensconced in the upper-class social life of British ex-patriots. Then he meets Trudy, a wealthy Eurasian schemer who insults and captivates him.
Just six months after they meet, Hong Kong falls to the invading Japanese. Everyone must scramble to find a place in the society of the Occupation. Playing on turmoil and fear, the Japanese round up and contain the Europeans, meanwhile courting the Chinese with propaganda portraying a new Asian era.
The author brings to life the Hong Kong of the 1940s, spinning a tale of romance, intrigue and lost treasures.