THE PIANO TEACHER
by Janice Y. K. Lee
REVIEWED BY ADRIANA LESHKO
The Japanese occupation of Hong Kong circa 1942—when formerly pampered expatriates wound up in internment camps and native Chinese citizens suffered harrowing deprivations—is still emitting aftershocks when 28-year-old Claire Pendleton arrives from England in 1952. Married to Martin, a milquetoast fellow Brit with a job in the Department of Water Services, and sheltered from the ways of the world by a provincial upbringing, Pendleton (the piano teacher of the title) has no inkling of the wartime horrors simmering beneath the surface of a seemingly restored society. An affair with guarded expat Will Truesdale—whose tragic love for mercurial Eurasian socialite Trudy Liang a decade earlier is the heartbreak that haunts the novel—serves as the catalyst for unearthing long-buried secrets. Author Lee, a former editor at Elle magazine, is as comfortable illuminating Hong Kong's glittering pre-occupation social swirl as she is describing the conflict between survival and honor in wartime. That primal struggle comes to bear upon nearly every character in this shattering, immensely satisfying debut.
by Azar Nafisi
REVIEWED BY MICHELLE GREEN
A feminist who taught English and refused to wear the veil, Nafisi was expelled from the University of Tehran in '81, when she was swept up in a violent purge. It wasn't the first time she had been censored; the child of a charismatic Iranian politician and his delusional wife, she had learned not to question her parents' warring "fictions about themselves," she writes. In a lyrical, often wrenching memoir (a follow-up to Reading Lolita in Tehran), Nafisi examines "the gaps, the silences" that shaped her life. At its center: her mother—a broken, narcissistic woman who failed to notice when Nafisi was molested by family friends. "She turned us into mirrors," writes the author, "desperate to find an image she could not see." Compassionate, clear-eyed, Nafisi offers a stunning view of a family built on denial.
by Robin Romm
REVIEWED BY ANNE LESLIE
"Rage, rage against the dying of the light," wrote Dylan Thomas—and that's what Romm does in this searing memoir of her mother's last weeks. Visiting her parents in Oregon, the California grad student slowly realizes that neither reason nor refusal nor fierce love can beat breast cancer. She strikes at grief with defiant humor, and though this child of a doctor (her dad) and a lawyer (her mom) never takes a leap of faith, writing is her transcendence. Her mom would be proud.
by Tiffany Baker
REVIEWED BY SUE CORBETT
Consigned to a remote farm after she's orphaned at age 12, Truly Plaice—whose huge girth repulses her rural New York neighbors—later becomes caregiver to the town doctor's only son. It's in cruel Dr. Morgan's home that she reverses her fortunes, cleverly decoding a quilt embroidered by a 19th-century witch. Truly's complicity in her own mistreatment is hard to sympathize with, but her newfound powers inspire hope for her future.
• At 50, the Olympic figure skating champ and cancer survivor is counting his blessings—and has written a book to help others do the same.
WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY THESE DAYS?
Splitting a dish of ice cream with my wife, Tracie; skating with my son Aidan, 5. He wants to play hockey, which makes me happier than him wanting to be a figure skater!
HOW IS YOUR HEALTH?
The testicular cancer is done. I had a pituitary-gland tumor in my brain, diagnosed in 2004, and the doctors shrank it. They're watching it, but I feel good and I'm back skating.
YOUR ADVICE FOR STAYING POSITIVE?
It's not the events in life that define you, it's how you deal with them. We're all here on the planet for a minute. Enjoy it.
• For his new book, Christopher Kennedy Lawford gathered stories from recovered addicts. Some striking confessions:
"I'm driving down the road, I'm having a drink. It's four o'clock; I'm supposed to have a drink. But one day I went, 'I don't see anybody else in their car with a plastic take-out container filled with ice and wine.' ... So I think, 'Maybe I should stop drinking while I'm driving.'" —ALEC BALDWIN
"I was a Vicodin addict.... I was drawn to people on crutches. I might show up bringing flowers or fruit, and then I'd use their bathroom and go through their medicine cabinet." —JAMIE LEE CURTIS
"What have I done to [Charlie]? I taught him how to do it. I taught him everything he knew. I never got into the drugs in that way, but I used to drink with the lads on a few occasions.... He knew I was addicted." —MARTIN SHEEN