The Piano Teacher, Janice Lee
This is a marvelous book about wartime Hong Kong and survival. The brutality of the Japanese was beyond my imagination although today, the brutality in the radical Islamic world may even surpass it. It seems humans have no end to imagination when it comes to horrific behavior toward each other.
The main characters either rise to the occasion, becoming the best of what they are, helping others to survive or perhaps they sink to the lowest level of expectations and do, in varying degrees, whatever is necessary to save themselves, although it is somewhat collaborating with the enemy, even if it is surreptitiously, and often sacrifices others to their own selfish cause.
Is survival worth any price, even one’s dignity and self respect, even the lives of others? That is an answer each person, regardless of background, rich or poor, smart or dull, is called upon to supply during wartime and other times of extreme deprivation. Do we all have a price? Will retribution be the cost someday? This book explores all these ideas and does it exceptionally well.
Using largely the voices of Trudy, Will and Claire, the author has captured the convergence of their lives, warts and all, especially where Will is concerned with both women, plus their secrets and the essence of all of the characters, with their different cultural backgrounds, as she takes us from the early 40’s as Hong Kong is occupied by the Japanese to post war Hong Kong in the early 50’s when life is once again normalized, to the outside eye, at least, with the British once again in control and life much more civilized with its formal routines.
She has illustrated well the clash of cultures, the outward obvious traits they exhibit. Clearly evident is the Japanese insecurity about their stature, their cruelty and often mindless obedience, the cold often mean spirited vindictive behavior and face saving devices of the Chinese as well as their remarkable entrepreneurial spirit, the English with their often shallow love of pomp and circumstance and incumbent preoccupation with it, the ugly American with his ability to turn any situation to his advantage given some tools to work with, the urge to survival being prominent and foremost in all who are threatened, obviating the need to morph into different people as the need arises, the power of beauty, money and influence to turn the tide.
I had no idea about the circumstances of the occupation of Hong Kong during World War II. This book illuminated the barbarity of the Japanese which is apparent in hindsight, as I consider that they were engaged in peace talks with the US at the very time they bombed Pearl Harbor. It is amazing that just 65 short years later, the vanquished have returned to power due largely to aid from the countries they terrorized. I would absolutely recommend this book, without hesitation.