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The Piano Tuner Paperback – August 19, 2003


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Daniel Mason's debut novel, The Piano Tuner, is the mesmerizing story of Edgar Drake, commissioned by the British War Office in 1886 to travel to hostile Burma to repair a rare Erard grand piano vital to the Crown's strategic interests. Eccentric Surgeon-Major Anthony Carroll has brokered peace with local warlords primarily through music, a free medical clinic, and the "powers" of common scientific instruments, much to the dismay of warmongering officers suspect of such unorthodox methods. Drake is an introspective, well-mannered soul who, once there, falls in love with Burma and stays long past the piano-fixing to aid Carroll's political agenda. Drake's arduous journey to reach the outpost, however, takes far too long (nearly half the book) and the plotting is rather heavy-handed at times (one night, Drake learns of a mysterious "Man with One Story" who rarely speaks, and the very next morning the Man tells all to Drake). The story is ambitious, the language florid and sure to please, but the dialogue and melodrama are sometimes tedious. While out on the town with Carroll's love interest, Khin Myo (who enchants Drake), Mason offers the townspersons' view of Drake:
It is only natural that a guest be treated with hospitality, the quiet man who has come to mend the singing elephant is shy, and walks with the posture of one who is unsure of the world, we too would keep him company to make him feel welcome, but we do not speak English.... They say he is one of the kind of men who has dreams, but tells no one.
Drake's complexity is thin; perhaps the beauty of Burma takes over any real need for introspection. Despite these quibbles, The Piano Tuner is a memorable achievement. --Michael Ferch --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Twenty-six-year-old Mason has penned a satisfying, if at times rather slow, debut historical. Edgar Drake lives a quiet life in late 19th-century London as a tuner of rare pianos. When he's summoned to Burma to repair the instrument of an eccentric major, Anthony Carroll, Edgar bids his wife good-bye and begins the months-long journey east. The first half of the book details his trip, and while Mason's descriptions of the steamships and trains of Europe and India are entertaining, the narrative tends to drag; Edgar is the only real character readers have met, and any conflicts he might encounter are unclear. Things pick up when Edgar meets the unconventional Carroll, who has built a paradise of sorts in the Burmese jungle. Edgar ably tunes the piano, but this turns out to be the least of his duties, as Carroll seeks his services on a mission to make peace between the British and the local Shan people. During his stay at Carroll's camp, Edgar falls for a local beauty, learns to appreciate the magnificence of Burma's landscape and customs and realizes the absurdity of the war between the British and the Burmese. While Mason's writing smoothly evokes Burma's beauty, and the idea that music can foster peace is compelling, his work features so many familiar literary pieces-the nerdy Englishman; the steamy locale; the unjust war; the surprisingly cultured locals-that readers may find themselves wishing they were turning the pages of Orwell's Burmese Days or E.M. Forster's A Passage to India instead.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (August 19, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400030382
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400030385
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (225 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #102,723 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Beautifully written and a well told story.
Sailoil
The style of writing does not make things better: I found it very heavyhanded, dry, and full of self-importance.
MartinP
I just finished this book and although it took me some time to read it I absolutely loved it.
emilymc

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By klavierspiel VINE VOICE on June 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
Author Daniel Mason's debut novel tells the tale of Edgar Drake, an English piano tuner who specializes in working with Érards, upscale French instruments. One day out of the blue Drake receives a mysterious summons to tune an Érard belonging to Anthony Carroll, a British Army surgeon stationed in an unstable region of colonial Burma, and off he goes.

Mason has done his research--the descriptions of a lost, exotic land and its people are poetically evocative and cry out for visual realization (David Lean, where are you when we need you?). He also demonstrates a considerable knowledge of the workings of the British Army, colonial Burmese history and culture, and piano technology. All of this background, as fascinating as it is, frankly overwhelms the slow-paced, slender plot, which takes more than one hundred pages to bring Drake and the mysterious Dr. Carroll together. Along the way the hero meets the obligatory exotic heroine, in this case a beautiful and educated servant of Carroll's named Khin Myo, but the affair remains tastefully chaste. If one hangs with "The Piano Tuner" there is a surprise twist and an unexpected, tragic denouement that grip the reader at the eleventh hour; but the time and number of words it takes to get there suggests Mason, as beautiful and atmospheric as his writing can be, needs to work more on his sense of pacing and proportion.
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72 of 78 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 13, 2003
Format: Paperback
Was Edgar Drake a hapless foil? Was he really mixed up in espionage, codes and a plot against his own government? The reader must decide. Nonetheless the reader's trip from England to Burma is an exotic, engaging one. Edgar, a devout piano tuner, is summoned by the military to make an arduous trip to Burma to tune an Erard, an instrument that is to the piano what the Stradivarius is to the violin. He's honored that his reputation is so sterling that he willingly undertakes the mysterious journey in what he believes is in service to his queen, leaving behind a loving wife to whom he is equally devoted.
The story takes place in the 1800s. Britain, as a colonialist country, has laid claim to portions of India and Burma and is fighting multiple (Burmese) regional princes who are not about to willingly give up their country or their way of life.
As Edgar travels by train and boat, he's fascinated by his novel surroundings. Rather than passing judgment on the different food and customs and beliefs he encounters, Edgar is smitten. Finally, he meets the mysterious Surgeon-Major Anthony J. Carroll, who is so important to the English that they would accede to the unusual request for both the Erard and a piano tuner who must put it right because of the piano's own perilous trip, Burma's humidity, plus having been through a full on military attack by an enemy!
Enter a beautiful woman. She is intelligent, attentive to Edgar, escorts him about the mountainous environs where Carroll is in charge, introduces him to the local flora and lore. What the mysterious Khin Myo's relationship is to Carroll is speculative but her importance is obvious and she is omnipresent.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Sailoil on February 13, 2007
Format: Paperback
Mason tells the story of Edgar Drake, a piano tuner from London who is asked to journey deep into the jungles of Burma to tune the piano of an eccentric officer.

This is a story evocative of Conrads "Heart of Darkness" and the spin off movie "Apocalypse Now". However, in Conrad the journey up the Congo river represents a descent into depravity as the shackles of civilization are cast off, and barbarism takes over.

Mason replays the story in a very different way. Instead of descending into darkness, Drake ascends into enlightenment. He blossoms in the heat of the tropics, becoming things he did not dare in polite London society. From tuner he becomes a pianist. From tradesman he becomes a diplomat. From a dry emotionless husk of a man he becomes a passionate lover.

But circumstances conspire against our hero and in the end it is the civilized world that shatters the primeval dream of the jungle.

Beautifully written and a well told story. We can never be sure of the final resolution until we reach the end of the book. Will love, music and passion triumph over politics, empire and the gun? Can the music of a piano in the jungle bring greater peace than an army? What a nice notion.
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Paul McGrath on November 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A quiet, bespectacled, home-bound English piano tuner is sent into the wide, wonderful, exotic world of 1886 in this outstanding first novel by Daniel Mason. Specifically, his job is to repair an out-of-tune piano which has somehow preceded him into the jungly wilderness of Burma, but in general he experiences the world as it was then, particularly that part of it at the furthest outpost of the British Empire. Thanks to the author's careful attention to detail, derived unquestionably from his own overawed sense of wonder, we get to experience it too.

With the piano tuner, Edgar Drake, we see the coast of Africa one hot morning off the starboard side of his ship; we sail through the Red Sea; we disembark in Bombay, then make the overland journey across India; and finally there is Burma from Rangoon to Mandalay to the final destination in the wilds of the Shan states, Mae Lwin.

Mae Lwin, with its children playing in the river, its tattooed men, its women with their strangely beautiful, lined "thanaka" make-up. Mae Lwin, built on the side of a mountain, with stairs slanting everywhere connecting its buildings. Mae Lwin, surrounded by a jungle filled with butterflies, flowers, snakes, mosquitoes, heat, sheeting rain, and various birds such as parrots, mynah birds and kingfishers. It is so exotic that we, like our besotted piano tuner, become enraptured by it.

But beyond this the novel is a pretty good intrigue also. The British, you see, had to be concerned with the French incursion into Indo-China, and also the never-ending Russian menace. The fierce Han warriors in the region had to be subdued either through alliance or war.
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