By Janice Y.K. Lee
336 pages; Viking
"I hope I don't destroy you," whispers the seductive Trudy Liang, a nervy, glamorous Hong Kong socialite, to Will Truesdale, a wildly attractive Englishman with a practiced aversion to love. It is June 1941. The international community in this British colony is still riding high—obscenely wealthy, genially intolerant of the local population, intoxicated with power and prestige. All that is about to end, as Japanese forces herd the privileged into internment camps, and loyalty is undermined by pride, self-interest, and fear. Janice Y.K. Lee's intensely readable debut novel, The Piano Teacher, alternates between that nightmarish moment in history and a decade or so later, when Claire Pendleton, a peaches-and-cream-pretty, unhappily married young English piano teacher with a tenuous connection to Hong Kong's expatriate society, finds herself drawn to the ambivalent Will, a man in thrall to a ghost. Lee, who grew up in Hong Kong and lived in New York, has a visceral understanding of cultural isolation and of the ruthless imperatives of race and class. War is the awful darkness at this novel's core, but there, too, is Trudy Liang, a fiercely willing prisoner of love.