This book was chosen by a newly formed bookclub I have joined. It is also recommended by Richard & Judy's summer reads.
The story followed two stories:
The first is set during the Second World War in Hong Kong between Will Truesdale and Trudy Liang.
The second story is set in the 1950's in Hong Kong between Will Truesdale & Claire Pendleton - the piano teacher.
I found the book hard to follow initially. Each chapter switched between the different settings, I found it difficult to understand the storyline and characters. I was lucky that I could read the book in quite large chunks, but if you were only reading a handful of pages a day it could be harder. I enjoyed the book more as the storylines developed and a section of the book was set in each setting.
The storyline was interesting and I enjoyed learning more about life in Hong Kong. Parts set during the war were a bit depressing, but also fascinating.
I really enjoyed the end of the book, with Claire learning the secrets that been hidden over the years. The book really came together for me towards the end of the book.
I would recommend this book to others, although it is hard to get into at the beginning, it is worth sticking with and was an enjoyable read.
This book i read recently on holiday and it was quite a good summer read. It is set in Hong Kong in 2 time periods the first during World War 2 and the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong and the second almost 10 years on in a 50's Hong Kong, where the war is but a past memory.
The story in the 40's centres round a fiesty Trudy Liang (A Eurasian Hong Kong socialite who stoops at nothing to ensure her survival) and her lover Will Truesdale an expat who end up in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Hong Kong.
The story in the 50's centre rounds a damaged and almost shellshocked Will who is now a chauffeur for a wealthy Chinese family and the piano teacher Claire Pendleton.
While it was an easy summer read i felt that i was more an observer to the story rather than getting caught up in the characters, you didn't feel much sympathy, empathy or attachment to any of them and i feel the book suffered for that.
"Will, I need something from you now."
"Everything I have is yours." It sounds false, even to him, metallic in his mouth, as he watches her desperate, dissembling face. What does she inspire in him now? Still love? Pity?
"So you'll help us?"
What could he do? She hadn't asked for herself. She asked for them. She was lost already.
It's summer 1941 and Englishman Will Truesdale arrives in Hong Kong and almost immediately met and fell in love with wealthy Eurasian beauty Trudy Liang. Their relationship takes a different turn when war hits Hong Kong six months later and it forces both Will and Trudy to make some hard choices just to survive.
Its 1951 and newlywed Claire arrives in Hong Kong with her husband Martin. Claire is soon hired by a well known prosperous Chinese couple Victor and Melody Chen, as a piano teacher for their daughter Locket.
Before long, Claire is introduced to Will who has become the Chens chaff. Claire soon becomes enthralled by Will, his mysterious ways and they begin an affair. However, it is not long before Claire is tangled up in some old secrets that involve her new lover and her employers. Secrets that cannot be buried, despite the 10 years since the war...
This book has all the elements you could possibly want in a novel. Its based in a fascinating country during an interesting time period, it has war, romance, stolen goods and a murder mystery.
The one thing it lacked throughout however was character likeability. The main characters in the story are Will Truesdale, an ex pat who moved to Hong Kong six months before the war and who fell in love with a beautiful Eurasian woman called Trudy Liang. We also have Claire, in contrast, Claire is (as it is described in the book) an English Rose next to Trudy's exotic scorpion. The problem was that despite three main solid characters and a rather chunky book, I warmed to none of them. Wills story is split between 1941 and his romance with Trudy and 1951 and his romance with Claire.
During the 1941 sections, Will was almost likeable, he was in a vulnerable state within his relationship with Trudy whilst also playing an important part in helping people through the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong. However this was juxtaposed against his relationship with Claire ten years later where he had become hardened, selfish and actually quite cruel in his treatment of Claire. Having said that, I thought that this added an element of mystery that was essential to the story development as the whole premise relies upon some secrets that were supposed to be buried when the war was over. Will and Trudy's story is essential to this story and Wills strange withdrawn behaviour intrigued me and kept me interested enough to find out the cause of such a massive change in his character.
Trudy and Claire, as I have mentioned are direct opposites but neither was particularly likeable either for different reasons. Trudy, although a fascinating character who is beautiful, wealthy and the life and soul of the party, comes across as frivolous and superficial. Towards the latter part of the book, I began to understand her more and the desperation and almost resignation of her situation did provoke me to sympathise with her more. Claire, on the other hand, is almost prudish in her ways, she has certain prejudices, steals from her employers and I hated how she let Will treat her in such a nasty way on several occasions, her weakness in these moments really frustrated me and made me want to distance myself from her rather than sympathise. There are also characters on the periphery of the story like the Chiangs, but once again they were also unlike able.
The main draw of this book once again comes back to the storytelling. I thought that the author did an excellent job of painting a clear and vivid picture of Hong Kong during that time, it felt very real to me, and although I've (obviously!) not lived through a war, I have visited Hong Kong and some of her descriptions to me seem so spot on that I could picture it.
Alongside this, it is a very strong and well told story. The secrets are seeped through to the 1951 sections slowly and then interspersed with the real events of 1951 which kept the book at a constant and entertaining level throughout. I did, however, find some of the war sections an tad too long. However, this was made up for by the most appalling, dramatic and emotional descriptions of the horrors of war that really stayed with me after I finished the book - for good or for bad, I'm not quite sure which!
I have nothing really bad to say about Lee as a writer; even the characters many faults didn't put me off. The only massive flaw I can see with this book is to do with the summary; I have a hardback cover of which the inside reads that "32-year-old newlywed Claire Pendleton" arrives in Hong Kong ...but the night that Claire meets Will Truesdale is the night of her 28th birthday. Just my little mistake spotting!
To conclude, this is an excellent, well written and told story of wartime Hong Kong and the shock effects that reverberated up to ten years later. As mentioned it has the essential elements to make this a pacey book that keeps the reader entertained; the strange relationships that Will has with the two women are fascinating reading and the mysteries surrounding Trudy and some missing Chinese artefacts also make intriguing reading. The conclusion of this book ties up the loose ends but pleasingly, leaves some open ended questions that makes the reader draw his or her own conclusions.
A subject such as this which involves such a massive piece of history I think would be difficult to achieve successfully even for an accomplished writer. The fact that this is Lee's debut is astonishing as she seems to have already mastered the art of beautiful storytelling even with such historical subject matter to deal with. As well as cleverly portraying life during this period, it isn't bogged down by historical facts that would normally turn me off; Lee also managed to keep the character storylines compelling reading and it's for this careful balance that her debut is such a success.