The Piano Teacher: A Novel

by Janice Y. K. Lee

Paperback, 2009

Collection

Genres

Publication

Penguin Books (2009), Edition: Third Printing, 328 pages

Description

"In 1942, Will Trusdale, an Englishman newly arrived in Hong Kong, has fallen headlong into a passionate relationship with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite. But when World War II strikes, Will is sent to an internment camp, while Trudy remains outside. Trudy is forced to form dangerous alliances with the head of the Japanese gendarmerie, whose desperate attempts to locate a priceless collection of Chinese art lead to a chain of terrible betrayals. Ten years later, Claire Pendleton comes to Hong Kong and meets the enigmatic Will. As long-buried secrets start to emerge and she begins to understand the true nature of the world she has entered, Claire learns that sometimes the price of survival is love"--Container.

User reviews

LibraryThing member momgee
It is so hard to believe that this is a debut novel. I found it wonderfully written and I was drawn in immediately. The story starts out in 1952 as we are introduced to Claire Pendleton, recent arrival in Hong Kong with her much older husband, Martin. Claire has been hired by the socially prominent Chen family to teach Locket Chen the piano. When the Chen family invites Claire and her husband to a party, she meets Will Truesdale, the Chen chauffer. The Chen family and Will Truesdale figure prominently in this novel from the beginning to the end.

The story then goes back and forth from 1941 to 1953 as the characters are introduced in preparation for possible invasion by the Japanese. With the use of flashback mode and differing points of view, we see the growth in the characters and how the war deeply affects them all. Will’s importance is slowly revealed when the reader is taken back to 1941 and the beginning of his passionate affair with Trudy Liang, a young, spoiled Eurasion. Trudy has numerous connections with the Hong Kong community and has a tremendous emotional impact on Will.

Written with exquisite detail as to location, the reader can immerse themselves into the environs of Hong Kong. It is easy to visualize the center with its European, classical style building and yet, not far away, the local market with its narrow alley ways and frenetic activity amid smoky stalls and clamorous noise. I felt like I was walking with Claire as she becomes familiar with her new home. With her seamless segueing between decades, the character development is tremendous. The characters are so well fleshed out as to emotion and vulnerability, the reader will feel as if they are truly alive. Their emotions and feelings just seem to leap off the page.

Lee unfolds each complex layer bit by bit without missing a beat. When the lives of all the characters come to a point of convergence, the past haunts the present in the many intertwined relationships. Alliances forged during the war will have long reaching consequences long after the war is over. People who had high positions now are brought to new lows, the war being the great equalizer. It all comes down to a matter of survival and the lengths people will go to cope with the horrors and atrocities of war.

There are so many elements in the telling of this story: romance, loyalty, betrayal, secrets, history along with social commentary. The peripheral characters are easily woven into the story with their own interesting sub plots. The surprising twists at the end only add to the enjoyment of this novel. The progression of the story is orderly with no superfluous details and with a wonderfully engrossing plot, this book is sure to be a success. I absolutely loved it. 5*****
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LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
This book was a struggle for me to get through, despite its short length. The writing itself is fine, not exceptional but not poor either. The problem for me was that all of the characters were so incredibly apathetic. Because of that, it was hard for me to care about them and what they did. I couldn't wait until their stories were over. In addition, they were all so mean-spirited, back-stabbing and unkind. One of the big points the book tries to make is how humans are different before and then after a grevious war or extreme circumstances; and how each person differs in the time of crises (how some cower to the oppressor(s) and some rise against). However, I never felt these particular characters proved that ~ they were pathetic both before, during and after WWII. Also, I am not sure the central story between Trudy and Will was a love story at all ~ it was more about how they did NOT love each other and went through great pains to put each other down and hurt each other. I will say that the locale, the history and the culture of 1940s/50s Hong Kong really came alive. The author clearly has a love for the area. It was also very interesting reading about the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong and the "camps" for the foreigners, something that is not written about much. The author has talent and interesting ideas, just needs better characters to pull those things off well. Overall, tepidly recommended only if someone would enjoy reading about Hong Kong during and the decade after WWII, because it is the best character in the novel.… (more)
LibraryThing member yankeesfan1
The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee. I really enjoyed this story and found it similar in some ways to The Tory Widow-both showed the difficult choices that people have to make during a war just to survive. The three main characters, Will, Trudy, and Claire are all quite intriguing, with various secrets and skeletons in there closets. I also found it interesting to look at different area of WWII history. The background characters also draw you in and keep you turning the pages quickly.… (more)
LibraryThing member BCCJillster
What a wonderful book--one of my favorites for the year (and it's late December). It's hard to resist the characters and the setting (Hong Kong just before and during WWII and the Japanese invasion). This could have been an easily predictable, mundane tale of odd love affairs, but Lee avoids easy answers and black and white morality while telling a darn good story.
Don't bother reading a lot of blurbs and reviews--just get the book and snuggle down and enjoy.

Very Graham Greene/Somerset Maugham and so well done it's quite hard to believe it's a first novel. Now I want another by Lee.

Thanks to the publisher and to LT for the ARC
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LibraryThing member pdebolt
I found this to be a remarkable book, particularly for a debut novel. The main characters are fascinating, and connecting them through the juxtaposition of ten years, which encompasses the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong, is masterful.

Enigmatic Will is an Englishman who falls in love with Trudy, a Eurasian socialite in 1942 and then has an afair in 1952 with a married English piano teacher, who becomes embroiled in his past and his present. There are numerous connections that both enhance and detract from both relationships. The ending surprised me and also satisfied my curiosity about what happened to the people in this novel.

It is also a mesmerizing glimpse into an occupied Hong Kong during WWII where people's loyalties are often divided and ambiguous. I hope that Janice Y.K. Lee is already working on another novel of this caliber.
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LibraryThing member readingrat
Two days ago I thought my review of this book would be quite different than it is. Two days ago I was on page 113 of this book and I was getting frustrated with the vapid characters who were either spending all their time acting the part of the privileged upper class English ex-pats in Hong Kong or (in Claire's case) stealing trinkets. Even the war-time surrender of Hong Kong to the Japanese seemed only a minor inconvenience to these people. However, a mere 13 pages later, the story rapidly grows teeth.
The Piano Teacher tells the story of two separate love affairs in the life of English ex-pat Will Truesdale. The two events are separated by a span of 12 years. In the 1940s, Will is new to Hong Kong and in love with a young Eurasian heiress, Trudy. They fill their days and nights with parties and other pleasant diversions. Even the war does little to affect their lifestyle, until the Japanese decide to put all the "enemy civilians" in interment camps. Will goes into the camp, but Trudy denies her British citizenship and remains free. From this point on, the story turns into a tragically human story of love, betrayal, and loss.
In the 1950s, Will has an affair with a young married woman, Claire. However, Will and Claire's affair simply provides the framework for the bigger picture of what ultimately happened to Will and Trudy during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong.
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LibraryThing member sharlene_w
The storyline was interesting, although I felt like a fine dining experience where you take time to enjoy every morsel from appetizer to entree and then are rushed out of the place in the middle of dessert. So much care was given to every detail through the book and then it was summarily concluded in a few pages. Worth the time invested in the author's deft descriptions of that time and place in history.… (more)
LibraryThing member kysmom02
The Piano Teacher is a story of a love affair during war times of the 1940's in Hong Kong. The story begins by introducing Clair and Martin. They movee to Hong Kong in the early 1950's when Martin's job transfered him there. Clair doesn't work at first, but is then hired to be a piano teacher for a young girl of a well known and wealthy family.

Next, Will and Trudy are introduced. The author bounces back to 1940 when they met and begins to draw the two time periods together until Clair and Will cross paths. As well as the love affair that begins, there is much scandal between many wealthy players.

The book is obviously well researched and much detail is provided about the effects of the war on the people of Hong Kong. The Japanese were portryed as very ruthless. However, the moving from decade back to decade made the story hard for me to follow. Another character of the story, Victor, was a shrewd man but I never really picked up on all of the evil that he was involved in. It didn't seem to make any sense, even in the end when it all comes together.

Overall, this isn't a book that I would have ordinarily picked to read, and although I'm glad that I did read it, it's not a book that I liked much.
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LibraryThing member littlebookworm
Over a span of ten years in Hong Kong, Will Truesdale falls in love with one woman before World War II and has an affair with another one after. When he arrives in society, he meets Trudi Canavan, an enigmatic, enchanting woman who somehow chooses him to take under her wing and they begin a passionate love affair. At the other end of the scale we have Claire Pendleton, a married piano teacher who generally reminded me of a mouse, and who can't get enough of Will. It seems that Claire is merely a foil to get us to what happened with Will and Trudi during the war, which is where this story really lies.

I'll be honest, I didn't really enjoy this book much. It's written in a spare style which I like very much and I thought the story was intriguing. I even grew to like Trudi over the period of the novel, though I didn't at the beginning. I think the problem, however, was that Claire bothered me. Despite the fact that she steals from her employers and carries on an affair behind her husband's back, she seemed spineless to me. To be honest, I didn't like post-war Will either. They seemed empty, going through the motions to get the author's plot where it was going by that point. The best parts were certainly those featured after the start of the war and the occupation of Hong Kong, at which point the novel develops into a very moving, human story about the unfortunate power of war.

Is it worth reading? Yes, but I really wish that the author had not chosen the dual narratives. They allow us to see the effects of the war, but it could have been done with someone more interesting than Claire, characters who had personality, or at least someone I could relate to in some way. Personal preference, and I'm sorry that such a thing marred my enjoyment of what could otherwise have been a stunning book.
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LibraryThing member bachaney
The Piano Teacher takes place in Hong Kong in two distinct periods--one before and during World War II (1941-1942) and one after (1951-1952). At its center are two women in love with one man. Claire, a newly wed young Englishwoman has just arrived in Hong Kong with her new husband in 1951. As she tries to adjust to life in this foreign city, Claire takes a job as a piano teacher in the home of a wealthy Chinese family, the Chens. At their house, Claire meets another Chen family employee, Will Truesdale, a chauffeur who never seems to drive anyone. Will and Claire fall into a passionate romance, and soon Claire begins to discover Will has a complicated past with the Chens, and one of their relatives, a former love named Trudy. As Claire and the reader discover the horrors of Will's past during the war, she comes to realize who she really loves. Will she be able to accept the crimes of those around her during the war?

This book grabs you in the first chapter, and I absolutely had a hard time putting it down. The author's juxtaposition of the two time periods, slowly unfolding the central narratives in each makes for a captivating read. I found the characters and the motives for their actions intriguing. The author's description of the setting was rich--at points I felt like I could feel the humidity (maybe its just because its pretty humid where I live) and smell the streets of Hong Kong. And although this book sounds like a fairly standard historical romance, some of its plot elements kept me guessing to the end.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical romance, because its one of the best i've read in a while. I know its early in the year, but I have a feeling The Piano Teacher is going to stay on my best of the year list.
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LibraryThing member mhleigh
The Piano Teacher tells two stories, both focused around the character of Will Truesdale. In 1942, Will arrives in Hong Kong from England, and promptly falls into an affair with a beautiful, exotic Eurasian socialite, Trudy Liang. As the two become increasingly serious, their relationship is threatened by the approaching Japanese and the threat of war. In 1952, Will meets Claire Pendleton, the newlywed piano teacher from England. Will is the driver for the Chinese family whose daughter she teaches, and the two begin an affair. As the distance between the two time period shrinks, more questions are asked than answered. What is the fate of the friends Will had in 1942? How did he turn from social butterfly to chauffeur? What became of Trudy?

Quote: "'I would think,' Claire said, 'if I knew that people would be looking in my house all day from the tram, I'd make a point of leaving it tidy, wouldn't you?'"

Sometimes when stories are written from two separate time periods, it seems like a gimmick that does not actually add anything to the story. This is certainly not the case with The Piano Teacher, however. The two stories complement and parallel each other. Will is a compelling character, despite the fact that the reader is asked to root for him in two different relationships. This is made somewhat easier because Trudy and Claire are complete opposites - Trudy is accomplished, polished, confident, world-wise, while Claire is provincial, naive, and completely unsure. It is worth a read, particularly if you are interested in World War II from Hong Kong's perspective.
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LibraryThing member stonelaura
There are many novels that explore the emotional demands of war by focusing on civilians and their reactions and choices made under times of extreme duress. The books that stand out are the ones whose characters reach from the pages and grab our hearts and minds. With The Piano Teacher, Janice Y.K. Lee has created such a book -- one with a haunting depth, one where the characters make small but meaningful choices that have long-lasting consequences for themselves and others around them. The story unfolds quietly as the chapters alternate between the beginning of WWII and ten years later. We meet Claire as a new bride, who in 1952 is navigating not only the uneven terrain of marriage, but the confusion of living in bustling post-war Hong Kong. She takes a job teaching piano for the high-society Chen family and becomes involved, in ways she cannot always account for, with the family and their history. From 1941 we meet Eurasian Trudy, the Holly Golightly of Hong Kong, and Will, the young Brit she has taken under her wing. Their relationship, while passionate, is volatile and becomes seriously strained when Will is interned and Trudy uses her wiles to survive on the outside. The two stories become enmeshed as truths are unearthed and those long-ago choices rear their sometimes honorable, and sometimes ugly, heads. Lee makes the exotic city of Hong Kong come alive with vivid images of daily life, from the local markets to the lavish British parties to startling depictions of the brutal Japanese occupation. The details of the complex story are layered and intriguing and are revealed in tantalizing and poignant slices. And, as is so often true in life, the story doesn’t necessarily have a neat and tidy conclusion.… (more)
LibraryThing member nellista
Set in Hong Kong, in two time periods, during WWII and about 10 years after. Starts out with a nice writing style, that really kept me reading. Hong Kong was (and is) a melting pot of cultures, and here we see the British Colonials, the properous Westerners, the local business men, the local servants, and then the Eurasian. The book is very much about black and white, versus grey areas. We have a beautiful Eurasian socialite Trudi, who doesn't feel like she fits into a particular place in society, and her relationship with Will, a British national who finds himself round up in the Stanley Internment Camp when Hong Kong is captured by the Japanese. Due to Trudi's background, she stays out of the camp. As the book plays out, there is the mystery of what happened to Trudi, as it is clear from the chapters set after the war that she is no longer around. The details of the Internment Camp, and the anarchy of life of the remaining citizens is quite harrowing. There is also Claire, a newlywed naive young British women that accompanies her husband to Hong Kong after the war, and seems to find that she is reinventing herself.
One of the big themes is the question of being a collaborator with the enemy. Were do you draw the line between collaborating, and survival? And different people judge and are judged differently.
I found it to be a quick read, as I kept wanting to find out what happened to everyone. I did feel that the ending was a little flat. Hard to say why though.
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LibraryThing member swampette
Overall, I was impressed with The Piano Teacher, especially as a debut novel. I thought that the mystery element of the story was incorporated deftly for the most part, although things seemed to be wrapped up a little too quickly in proportion to the build-up. Lee developed her characters well but coldly; they seemed to lack a human element. The descriptions of Hong King and the changes it underwent before, during and after the war are the real highlight of the book. Without the intricate setting, the rest of the novel would have been meaningless.… (more)
LibraryThing member MayaP
Don't judge a book by its cover!

On the surface, this is a romance novel about a man’s One Great Love that can’t withstand the rigours of the war, and a less than great affair with a married piano teacher. Underneath that surface lies a cleverly constructed mystery about a beautiful socialite who disappears during the war and the people responsible, directly and indirectly, for her death.

Some of the characters grow rich, stay safe, become successful, others are interned, tortured and die – and it's rarely the people you expect, there’s a surprise in almost every chapter. No one is who or what they seemed to be at the start. A great many dirty secrets are revealed, many lives ruined, some vindicated and some - you never do find out what happened. Rich and poor, they just disappear. The brutality of the Japanese occupation is not glossed over. This is not a story for the squeamish.

The book’s cover – distinctly Mills and Boon – didn’t fill me with much in the way of anticipation, I was expecting a weak and slushy romance in an exotic setting. I was wrong. The setting and the characters are palpable, real and perfectly drawn; the plot compelling and intriguing. Highly recommended
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LibraryThing member tangledthread
Lately it seems to be the fashion to write stories that jump back and forth in time and this book follows that fashion. The book begins in May 1952 Hong Kong. Claire Pendleton is a newlywed British expatriate who has come to Hong Kong because of her husband's work. At loose ends, she becomes a piano teacher to the young daughter a wealthy Chinese family.

The other time period is WWII Hong Kong, just prior to the Japanese invasion and occupation of Hong Kong. The primary characters in this time period are Will Truesdale, another British expatriate who becomes involved with Trudy, a flamboyant wealthy Eurasian daughter of a wealthy Chinese entrepreneur.

As the novel progresses, Claire becomes involved with the 1953 Will Truesdale and the story of brutality in the Japanese concentration camps and the machinery of greed, racism, and classism play themselves out.

Pay attention to the names in the book, they tell the nature of the characters. None of the characters are particularly likeable, but then war doesn't tend to bring about the best in people. The writing is spare and at times bloodless. At times I had the sense that I was reading a screenplay for the silver screen.
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LibraryThing member betsytacy
Janice Y.K. Lee’s debut historical novel, The Piano Teacher, weaves together two strands of narrative: Hong Kong in 1941 when the Japanese invade and Hong Kong in 1952 in the post-World War II period. In both periods the cosmopolitan community is seen through the eyes of a newcomer. In 1941 that newcomer is Englishman Will Truesdale, who begins a love affair with Trudy Liang, a Eurasian socialite. And in 1952, the newcomer is Claire Pendleton, an English newlywed who soon embarks on her own love affair with Will Truesdale. Through Will, Claire starts to see beneath the brittle surface of postwar Hong Kong society and learns of the secrets her new acquaintances are hiding about what happened during the Japanese occupation. Lee’s picture of wartime Hong Kong is devastating as she contrasts the English and Americans who are forced into prison camps with the Chinese who scrabble for existence and must decide how to contend with the Japanese invaders (will they collaborate or resist). Lee addresses themes of guilt and accountability and explores how, in the face of adversity, some people choose heroism and others choose cowardice. She looks at what people will do to survive and how they cope with the aftermath of what they did to survive. Some are able to go on as if nothing happened, and others are destroyed by the knowledge of what they did. Lee’s depiction of wartime and postwar Hong Kong is vivid and unforgettable. Readers who like all the narrative threads tied up in a neat bow might be frustrated by some of the questions left unanswered at the end of the book. The ending and the actual reveal of the secrets hinted at in the early part of the book were a bit anticlimactic, but those are minor quibbles. All in all, this is a solid and enjoyable debut work of literary fiction. I look forward to more from Lee.… (more)
LibraryThing member ccayne
How does war change you; what will you do to survive? This book shows what a group of expats do in Hong Kong when the Japanese occupy their city. Claire comes to Hong Kong an innocent, Trudy is Eurasian and far from innocent and Will Truesday is involved with both of them - Trudy pre-war and during and Claire, post war. Lee wrote this in short vignettes. It was a powerful book.… (more)
LibraryThing member Airycat
I don't think the piano teacher was the main character of this story. She seemed a bit bland. There was nothing about her that made me either love or hate her. Will seems more the main character. Although I can see that it is because of Will that Claire changes, his and Trudy's, stories are much more interesting. Trudy is such a complete opposite to Claire, that I couldn't help wonder why Will was even slightly interested in Claire. There is also the issue of the Herrend rabbit mentioned in the first sentence of the story. That and the other items seem to have a great importance to Claire that never quite plays out. Lee doesn't forget about them, but the way she handles it seems a let down.

All of that is minor for enjoyment of the book, however. Although I've never been to Hong Kong, I got some sense of the city with this reading. The best parts of the book were Will's story set just prior to and during WWII. It is in telling this story that Lee's writing comes to life. This may be simply that Will and Trudy have more color than Claire. The book also provides a limited history lesson of Hong Kong during WWII as it tells Will's and Trudy's stories.

Over all, this was a pleasant and enjoyable book.
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LibraryThing member fglass
This book came to life for me in about the last 100 pages. Before that, I felt I was taken to roughly between two time periods: Pre- (1942) and Post- (1953) WWII in Hong Kong. I was royally confused as to what the two stories had to do with each other. After too long, a character appears to be in both the stories, and then you have a connection to build on. It was too late to gain my interest.… (more)
LibraryThing member Coyote99
An Early Reader book, this is an auspicious debut novel. I am always happy to find an interesting story about a period of time that I am not familiar with. Lee does an admirable job of creating a believable rendering of Hong Kong in a time of colonial dissatisfaction and war. I found the juxtaposition of East and West, Japanese and Chinese, present and past and privilege and punishment to be an fascinating read. Each character is sparingly drawn and all leave the reader wishing for more. A wonderful winter read.… (more)
LibraryThing member allthesedarnbooks
Claire, the titular piano teacher, moves to Hong Kong with her new husband, Martin, in 1952. She is overwhelmed by the foreign city and its people. She takes a job teaching piano to the Locket Chen, the daughter of a wealthy and sophisticated Chinese couple who were educated in the United States and England. Then she meets Will, a mysterious older Englishman who now works as the Chens' driver, and they begin an affair. Through flashbacks, we learn about Will's past in Hong Kong just before and during World War II, and his relationship with the beautiful and unique Eurasian socialite Trudy Liang. The horrors of war, the sacrifices of love and survival, are explored as we (and Claire) learn about Will and Trudy's story. I really liked this book. Lee's style is lovely; her descriptions of Hong Kong make it as much of a main character as any of the people, and there's a real lyricism to her writing. My only problem with the book was that I didn't care for Claire. Her sections were boring and, to me, unnecessary; I understand that the author was setting up a mystery for us to uncover as Claire did, but the chapters about Will and Trudy were so much more interesting, and I wanted more of them. The descriptions of life in Japanese-occupied Hong Kong and were devastating. I will definitely look forward to more by Ms. Lee; she's a promising talent. Recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member shsb
I decided to read this book because I read a rave review of it in a magazine. After I started reading it, I found out that the magazine that gave it that rave review also has Janice Lee on staff.

I thought the book was just okay. Not good. Not great. To me, it didn't really have a point other than to demonstrate how people's lives can change because of war. The synopsis on the book jacket said that a terrible secret would be revealed, but IMHO there was no big terrible secret revealed. It was actually quite a let-down, waiting for a big reveal and then none was coming. There was one plot twist that might have been the reveal they were talking about, but if that's the case it wasn't such a big shock like it was made out to be.

I gave this book 3 stars, and that's being generous.
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LibraryThing member mryan8279
Listened on downloadable. Fascinating story about a period and place I don't know anything about. I didn't admire the characters greatly, which made it hard to totally love the book.
LibraryThing member cscovil
JANICE Y K LEE: The Piano Teacher

A holiday read in 2009.

The conversation with Janice YK Lee at the end of book reveals how the novel started out as a short story and then developed with the introduction of new characters. It took five years to complete and was a process of writing and writing about what the characters did and said.

Along with this went extensive research into Hong Kong in World War II that gives the novel its fascinating and vivid detail. Janice YK Lee says she hoped people can really sink themselves into the world that is portrayed in the book. I certainly did sink into it myself, the atmosphere of Hong Kong during the occupation and the post war period was so finely recreated, the social scene, clothes, mannerisms, the food, were all drawn in fine detail.

The central characters Trudy, Will and Claire were all flawed and believable. I enjoyed the characters so much, the plot and the story were secondary. The plot – the Crown Collection – a hoard of precious artefacts being hidden away during the war and finally being unearthed and returned to the Chinese in a shady deal – was almost superfluous, it was the experience.

General Fiction Novel
Published in 2009
HarperCollins
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Pages

328

ISBN

0143116533 / 9780143116530
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