Saturday, March 12, 2005

Another White Guy Lost in Translation...

While I was in Hong Kong I had some free time, between work and sight seeing, to catch up on some reading. (For those of you who visit my site as opposed to reading the feed, my "Recent Reading" sidebar is horrendously out of date.) In any case, before I left my wife gave me a copy of The Piano Tuner. It's a story set in the 1800's of a piano tuner who is drafted into her majesties army to tune a piano that was shipped to a very important military commander in the hills of eastern Burma. The commander is a enigmatic figure who has been given control of a post in the Shan Hills, an area of critical importance to the British empire. The story is riveting and it was drawn into it even more since like the character in the book I was a westerner in Asia with more than a slight case of sensory and cultural overload. Daniel Mason, the author, seemed to capture this meme perfectly. His narrative was thick with vivid imagery and the history of the Shan Hills and fraught with tension as we follow one man's journey into places unknown. I know some of you may compare it to something like Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness or its modern adaptation Coppola's Apocalypse Now but the Piano Tuner is a lot more nuanced, less focused on the military action, and more focused on the interior, psychological story when eastern and western cultures collide. As in any collision there's an exchange of matter and of essence to the extent that it's difficult to pull the elements of the interaction apart cleanly. Like the characters in the book they are forever changed. The Piano Tuner is a great book. Curl up with it and a steaming cup of jasmine tea.

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