The Piano Teacher
by Janice Y. K. Lee
In 1942, Will Truesdale, an Englishman newly arrived in Hong Kong, falls headlong into a passionate relationship with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite. But their love affair is soon threatened by the invasion of the Japanese, with terrible consequences for both of them, and for members of their fragile community who will betray each other in the darkest days of the war.
Ten years later, Claire Pendleton comes to Hong Kong and is hired by the wealthy Chen family as their daughter’s piano teacher. A provincial English newlywed, Claire is seduced by the colony’s heady social life. She soon begins an affair, only to discover that her lover’s enigmatic demeanor hides a devastating past. As the threads of this spellbinding novel intertwine and converge, a landscape of impossible choices emerges—between love and safety, courage and survival, the present and, above all, the past.
Carrie’s Conversation with Janice:
Carrie: In general, how does an idea for a book come to you ~ does it perk slowly in your mind or does it come in a flash?
Janice: Percolation is definitely my process. Sometimes, I feel like I am waiting for the story to rise up from the depths of my subconscious. It can be very frustrating because I don’t feel like there’s a lot I can do to hurry the process along, that I’m not the driver of the process—that it is my subconscious. I hear of writers who have their books mapped out before they start writing, and I cannot imagine being able to do that. I wish I could. It would make my life a lot easier. So I wait, and when something comes along, a sentence, an image, a particular word, and it resonates with me, I know that it has come to drive the story forward. In this way, I accumulate the story.
Carrie: Give us an idea of the plot/subject without giving too much away.
Janice: The Piano Teacher is a historical novel set in WWII Hong Kong about an Englishman and the affairs he has with two very different women before and after the war.
Carrie: What is the primary message you’d like your readers to take away from this book?
Janice: I don’t write with a message in mind, when I’m in process but, upon reflection (and having been asked this question many times), I think that the book might make you think about the decisions one makes in excruciating times and how those decisions may come to define you in a way that is not at all characteristic with who one is in more normal times.
Carrie: What is your favorite scene in the book? Why?
Janice: I like the second chapter, when we are introduced to Trudy Liang and the world she lives in. I really hope that readers are thrust into the world of privileged colonial society and can breathe the perfumed air, the clink of heavy silverware, taste the wine.
Carrie: What was the most difficult scene to write? Why?
Janice: Which character do you identify with the most in your book? How much of yourself did you put into these characters and did you realize you showed up in the book? If so, while you were writing or only afterwards upon review?
Carrie: What are you reading right now?
Janice: I had read Dan Chaon’s amazing first book, Among the Missing, a collection of short stories, and realized with his third book coming out, that I had missed his first novel, You Remind of Me. So I’m reading that, and concurrently reading Await Your Reply, his second novel.
Carrie: What authors, books, or ideas have influenced your writing?
Janice: What is your go-to book–that one you’ve read more than once, possibly over-and-over? OR Who is your go-to author? I have read Jane Eyre over and over. I don’t know how Bronte did it, and how her work continues to do it—provide life to a character and world that must, by now, be entirely unfamiliar to modern readers but that we still identify with so strongly. She tapped into something universal in that book.
Carrie: Can you offer a glimpse into your “real life” and share a bit of your personal life—Outside of writing, what’s important to you?
Janice: I have four kids under the age of 7 so my life is mostly consumed with that. If I have any time, I try to practice yoga. But usually I am either rounding up children or chained to my desk.
Carrie: What did you learn about yourself while writing this book that you may not have expected?
Janice: When it came time to send the book out, I had to look at the future straight in the eye and ask myself what I would do if the book did not sell. It was really hard. I had spent five years working on this story and there was a distinct possibility no one would want it, or that maybe twenty people in the world would read it. At some point, I realized that if that happened, I would put it away and write another book. And then another, if that second one didn’t sell. That’s when I realized it was all right. It was a journey, and the destination could keep changing and I would be ok. I was a writer, nonetheless.
Visit Janice’s Website ~ A bit about Janice Y. K. Lee: She was born and raised in Hong Kong and went to boarding school in the United States before attending Harvard College. A graduate of Hunter College’s MFA program and a freelance writer, Lee is a former features editor at Elle and Mirabella magazines in New York. She currently lives in Hong Kong with her husband and children.