Being at Peace vs Maintaining Peace {Book Club}

Edgar has arrived in Burma as we start today’s section in  The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason. Also, I modified the reading plan slightly at the 24 chapters didn’t fall evenly half and half, so today we will end with chapter 11 and next week pick up with chapter 12 and the start of book 2.

Chapter 7 is the (heart breaking) tiger hunt. I have such compassion for Edgar because I see myself mirrored in him. He is well intentioned. He has learned a bit about the culture through reading reports. He means to do well — and later we will see him making language attempts and wanting to interact with the culture. So when it came to the tiger hunt and his desire not to go, but not knowing how to get out of it, I saw myself too. I think we have all been in situations where we were uncomfortable, yet stuck.

And then the unthinkable happened. “It had changed everything, he thinks. This is not part of my plan, my contract, my commission.”

Chapter 8 finds Edgar (and reader) trying to make sense of what happened. Like him, I was surprised the accidental killing was recorded. Also like Edgar, I saw how the British sought absolution through bureaucracy and loved the line “blurring behind bureaucracy.”

Again we had foreshadowing with Edgar picking up the dead boys coin and inheriting his fortune. Did anyone else smile and cheer on Katherine for having him memorize some sport scores? Edgar probably would not have thought about sports, but Katherine knew they could be a point of connection between Edgar and others.

I loved the writing in Chapter 8 when they were on the flotilla and the men telling the stories — I am impressed that Moran can create such different feeling in different settings. And that section? It felt like like people telling stories! I loved that Edgar is floating toward the man he has yet to meet (Carroll) and hearing stories of him. I am struck by the love and admiration people have for Carroll though they have never met him. It makes me think of social media and blogs—where we get to know each other from a distance. It makes me wonder, “Amy, are you investing in the world in such a way that the stories told of you are laced with love?”

How brilliant that Carroll played the local love song to build relationships. It struck me that he played a LOVE song showing that he came in love! Again, had me thinking how we can play love songs with our lives and work. My favorite line (and very thought provoking) is: “That although the Commissioner proclaimed there was Peace, for the soldiers there was only Maintaining Peace, which was very different, and with this came fear and the need for something to keep the fear away.”

Wow. Actually peace is different than maintaining peace. Christ is the Prince of Peace, not the Prince of Maintaining Peace. As a disciple of Christ, do I have peace? Or do I not really have the fruit of peace because I am trying to maintain peace?

One more thing from Chapter 8 and then I know I need to move it along or we will be here all day :). Let’s just pretend we are floating on a river chatting. Okay? Those dacoits on the boy. Those boys! Made me think of cults and Alqada and other groups like that they touch deep into people who have lost hope and a sense of belonging — offering false hope and false belonging. This chapter has me longing for the Lord’s Prayer to be answered. God’s kingdom here on earth. Daily provision. Peace between us and God and each other.

Finally we are in Mandalay with Edgar!!

In Chapter 9 he meets Khin Myo and shows his desire to cross cultures with his attempts at Burmese and interest in walking around the town. I laughed that his watch from Katherine is only right twice a day now — showing that she is still very much on his mind. I was pained by his observation that “I am amazed but it is all so . . . reproduced.” Like many of you, I struggle with the balance of making my home something I am familiar with and comfortable in, yet not so reproduced from my home country I don’t embrace the local culture.

Chapter 10 are the pwe’ shows. I loved how Edgar has two guides: one who is expat and one who is local. We can benefit from both. The chapter ends with more foreshadowing. (I sense my high school English teachers smiling.) “The Captain shoot his head. ‘No, I have not abandoned everything,’ he said, and paused. ‘But there are those who have.’ ‘Another Carroll,’ said the piano tuner softly. ‘Or others, perhaps,’ said Khin Myo.”

And then in Chapter 11 Edgar is told, “Oh no! Not today sir!” But doesn’t know why the delay or how long the delay. Remember your early days in country when things like this would happen but you didn’t know the culture or language enough to be able to read what was really going on? Or at least not as well as you can now? As the week went on and Edgar didn’t know what was going on, I could relate to how exhausted by the process he was becoming. I laughed when the reality was clashing with the stories Edgar had already started to tell about what WOULD happen. I’ve done that too! Played out a scene in my head before it happened and anticipated how I will describe something. (Let me be clear again, something that hadn’t even happened. I look good in my pre-version of reality! Oh Amy.)

I loved his letter to Katherine as he waited and this line: “I know we spoke often of this at home, and I still don’t doubt a piano’s role. But I have come to think that ‘bringing music and culture here’ is more subtle—there are art and music here already.”

Have any of you read Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II? I did last year and would recommend it for those who want to learn about elephants (they are fascinating!), a bit of Burmese history, and WWII in Burma.

I could go on, but let’s continue in the comments. Before we end for today, I have fun news. This spring we are going to read two books in tandem! A couple of weeks ago Danielle mentioned Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul. I have only skimmed through it (so we can read together), but I noticed themes that reminded me so much of Margaret Feinberg’s Scouting the Divine: My Search for God in Wine, Wool, and Wild HoneyI have made a reading plan where we will read a couple of chapters in Humble and related chapters in Scouting. It will be fun for a change. The good news is that both are cheap on Kindle and Velvet Ashes is going to . . .

Give away ten sets of both books! Five this week and five next week. Leave a comment to be entered to win both books! If you haven’t read The Piano Tuner, did you play an instrument as a child? Do you sing out of tune? Anything really, just comment!


February 6: Chapters 1-6
February 13: Chapters 7-11
February 20: Chapters 12-17 (We will finally meet Carroll through Edgar’s eyes!)
February 27: Chapters 18-24




  1. Hannah February 12, 2018

    I’m looking forward to reading those books! I especially look forward to Scouting.

    Bless you for leading out in this.

    1. Amy Young February 16, 2018

      Hannah, I loved Scouting :)! I hope others will too. It’s been quite a few years since I read it, so I hope I like it as much as I did 🙂

  2. Cassidy February 12, 2018

    I read the last few books but I didn’t get this one in time, it sounds good so I think I might read it anyway! I’m still recovering from walk two moons, I’m a crier! Haha
    Growing up I played the cello, trombone and piano but wasn’t great at any of them. I connect with the Lord through singing but I think the Lord may be the only one who enjoys the sound, but that’s all that matters, right?!

    I love the idea of simultaneously reading the two books! Can’t wait!

    1. Amy Young February 16, 2018

      Walk Two Moons was a crier!!! And you are funny with your comment about maybe only the Lord enjoying the sound 🙂 . . . I think we all would enjoy hearing your laugh!

  3. sarah February 13, 2018

    Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a way to get the Piano Tuner without changing my country on Amazon, so I figured I must not have time this month, which has proved true! I still really want to read it, though, especially as it’s set in Burma. And I think I’ll check out that elephant book you recommended, Amy!
    I played trumpet “socially” in school- meaning, I wasn’t very good at it but enjoyed all the community being in the band brought with it. 🙂
    Now I joyfully, though not very skillfully, play Ukulele in my personal worship times with the Lord. It really is the happiest instrument in the world- especially when paired with praising the Lord!

    1. Phyllis February 13, 2018

      I checked this book out from Open Library. You can get it from there when I’m done reading. 🙂

      1. sarah February 14, 2018

        Thanks, Phyllis! That’s very kind. Unfortunately, I’m about to go on a work trip and won’t really have time for reading for a couple weeks. But, I really appreciate your thoughtfulness. I’ll have to check out the Open Library another month.

    2. Amy Young February 16, 2018

      Your comment makes me chuckle Sarah 🙂 . . . I’ve played several instruments “socially” myself! Ha! Here’s to social playing!

  4. Michele February 13, 2018

    So many good things in these chapters! I had similar thoughts to what you’ve noted throughout. I have the most highlights in chapter 9, I think. I guess I relate to lots of Edgar’s thoughts and feelings because I was in a situation where I was hardly around any other ex-pats for 12 years, and then moved to a city that is full of them and had to find my place. I found myself astounded in situations that felt ‘reproduced.’ I love the line, “They’ve even imported the atmosphere.” I can also relate to: “They are polite, he thought, To think that in England I would never have been invited to such an affair.” I have found myself in mixes of ex-pats that would not have had anything to do with me if we were not in Asia together. That sentence is immediately followed by Edgar’s relief that the conversation began to turn. Something many Christian ex-pats are discovering in my current country, is that non-Christian ex-pats are more vehemently against our reasons for being here than most locals, and conversations can get uncomfortable! I also loved the sentence, “At home… As much as I feel at home, at home.”

    Earlier in that chapter I highlighted, “He had been unimpressed by most of the bureaucrats he met following the hunt, whose dullness in the presence of such color astounded him.” -I hope I never provoke a similar response in newbies and let them continually remind me of the color around me! I also love the way he “allowed himself to be caught up in the momentum of his arrival, the wonder and speculation that accompanies a new home.” Such a great description of any move, but especially cross-cultural ones!

    I have lots of notes in chapter 11 too, but I’m starting to write my own post here, so I’ll stop with this! 🙂

    1. Amy Young February 16, 2018

      “I have found myself in mixes of ex-pats that would not have had anything to do with me if we were not in Asia together.” — Me too! And like Edgar (and probably you), I found I had experiences in Asia I would never have had in my home country — like go to top political offices!

  5. Esteci February 13, 2018

    I read and very much enjoyed Humble Roots. Looking forward to checking out Scouting. And I think my son would enjoy the elephant book you recommended.

    1. Amy Young February 16, 2018

      Glad to hear another positive review on Humble Roots!

  6. Julie February 13, 2018

    I haven’t read the Piano Tuner but would like to. My husband has done a little bit of piano tuning and it’s fascinatingly tedious work to me. I need to read the book as right now I’m wondering the point of tuning a piano in the jungle as with that humidity it would last about a day…

    1. Amy Young February 16, 2018

      I will say I know nothing about piano tuning! It would be interesting to talk to your husband and get his thoughts on both this book and piano tuning :)!

  7. Esther February 13, 2018

    I played the clarinet from grades 5-8, which I enjoyed. When high school came around, it was required to be in the marching band for the first quarter+ of the school year if you wanted to be in concert band later. I didn’t want to devote my summer to band camp and every Friday night to playing at football games, so I gave up playing. :/ I still remember a few simple songs though!

    1. Amy Young February 16, 2018

      Funny how schools can be so different! My nieces are in their marching band and they do not have to go to the football games. But my friend’s daughter is in one in Texas, and man, they are at EVERY football game :). Even the away games! (What?!)

  8. Bayta Schwarz February 14, 2018

    I am so much enjoying some of his descriptive writing! Eg the storytelling scene on the boat. He captured so well the feel of that sort of situation – lots of people talking at ones, at times over each other, no story ever quite getting fully told. Similarly with the attack. The suddenness of it all, when Edgar was feeling tired and drowsy. For a while, like him, the reader didn’t quite know what was real and what was not.

    And a few other places, where I felt the author managed to capture things really well.

    – When Edgar first arrived in Mandalay “As they moved through the street Edgar tried to picture himself on one of the maps of Mandalay he had studied on the steamship. But he was lost and allowed himself to be caught up in the momentum of his arrival, the wonder and speculation that accompanies a new home.” I had to laugh – we try so hard to be well prepared (and that’s a good thing!) but then when a place goes from being something we read and study about, to being real and right there in our faces, we need to let go of our sense of being prepared and in control and, like Edgar, allow ourselves to get caught up in the momentum, wonder and speculation!

    – The power of just one letter to communicate so much. ‘They even imported the Atmosphere’ (with a capital A). Isn’t is just so true that places often have an ‘Atmosphere’, something that’s really hard to describe but that you feel in your bones?

    – And that moment when you feel you have lost something of who you are “Katherine, words were never my medium, and now I can not think of music for what I feel”. What a painful moment, when he feels his goal and purpose, his dreams and hopes, for this journey have disappeared! And to add to the pain, the one thing that has always helped him express himself, seems to also have deserted him as well!

    I am enjoying this book so much and look forward to what part 2 will hold!

    1. Amy Young February 16, 2018

      Bayta, so many of what stood out to you, stood out to me too :). I’m glad you’re enjoying this book!! Me too 🙂

  9. Kathy Vaughan February 14, 2018

    I am not a good Book Clubber! I started reading and couldn’t stop, so I’ve finished the book. I realize I find it difficult to make comments that aren’t affected by the fact that I know how the book ends.

    Edgar seems to be caught up in something in which he knows he is being changed, but he is unsure of where that change will take him. As expats on mission – even as obedient followers of Jesus – I think we can relate. Following Jesus is an adventure, leading who knows where, and that adventure is sure to change us. I think we have more of choice as how that change will affect us than Edgar seems to have, though, because we can choose to let Jesus change us in the way He purposes, or we can resist His loving plans to remold us. This reminds me to be intentional about the direction I allow change to take me.

    I often am reading more than one book at once, and I look forward to the next two books. I especially want to read Humble Roots.

    1. Michele February 14, 2018

      I am right on track with this book, but I have got caught up in a couple of other books we’ve read for book club and finished them before the second week! Glad I’m not the only one! 🙂 I was also reflecting on that being changed bit.. The fear of showing up back in London unchanged, and not having changed or impacted anything for all it took to get there… Yeah, I have definitely had times where I could relate to that feeling!

  10. Hadassah Doss February 14, 2018

    So, I haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy of The Piano Tuner, but I’m really enjoying the story throughbthe comments.

    I call myself a closet piano player, because occasionally I will play at home, but don’t consider myself a good enough player to play in public. I started to teach my girls the little I know, but now they’ve moved on to violin, and I am learning a new instrument along with them. It’s so hard! Not knowing, but still trying to help! The Lord is forming me somehow through the process. He has too, because right now, I don’t like who i am because of it!

    The singing out of tune question reminded me of my last host country. When we arrived I was stunned by all the out of time singing at churches there. But then I realized that they are used to singing a different scale and when they are forced to sing hymns from our Western culture, their ears just have a hard time adjusting. I wish we’d had more local music to sing!

    I can’t wait to see what we can learn from these next two books.

    1. Amy Young February 16, 2018

      Hadassah your comment about singing out of tune (so to speak) got me thinking :). I wish you’d had more local music to sing too :)!

  11. Kiera February 14, 2018

    If we thought that first section was moving slowly – did you think he would ever get to Mae Lwin?! I was right along with Edgar wondering if the story would take a completely different turn and he would never actually get there. That would be an interesting story too. I noted the same quote as you Amy, about how they didn’t need to bring art and music, it was already there. I like that there are British characters like Capt. Nash Burnam who appreciate the local arts and treat the people with respect and dignity. Of course, there is also the contrast of the tiger hunt and the more typical colonial attitude.

    I am really curious as to what the character of Anthony Carroll will turn out to be. He has been a man of such myth and mystery up to this point. Will he live up to his reputation or be a crashing disappointment?

    I am intrigued by the plan to read two books in tandem. I never used to be a multiple book at a time person and I still usually keep my fiction and non-fiction separate, but sometimes when I am reading multiple books, it’s neat how things in one will line up with or speak to topics in another.

    1. Amy Young February 16, 2018

      “If we thought that first section was moving slowly – did you think he would ever get to Mae Lwin?! I was right along with Edgar wondering if the story would take a completely different turn and he would never actually get there.” Preach!!! I realized as I neared the end of book one, “Wait, I have read half of the book and he still isn’t there!!!!”

      And we’ll see if reading the two books in tandem works :). I think it will with these two . . . but like Edgar we may wonder if we will ever actually “get there.” Ha!!

  12. Melissa February 14, 2018

    As a child, I played the flute, but not very well. Now my kids are learning piano.

    1. Amy Young February 16, 2018

      Greetings from a fellow flute failure 🙂 . . . you might not call yourself that, I just liked the sound. I didn’t play my flute very well either 🙂 . . . now a niece is using it, and it has found a true home, my underloved flute!

  13. Suzanne February 15, 2018

    This is the first time I have done anything with the book club and I am really enjoying it. Not long ago, I lamented to a friend that I would like to be in a book club (like her) but it wasn’t practical with lots of travel etc … and then I remembered that Velvet Ashes has a book club! I’m loving The Piano Tuner and the descriptions throughout. I am impressed at Edgar’s ‘learner’ attitude – he is the ‘foreign expert’ but doesn’t interact with local people that way because he recognises the reality of his outside-ness. And he isn’t a proud man which makes it all the easier to be a ‘learner’. And he has a very helpful ability to laugh at himself!

    1. Amy Young February 16, 2018

      Suzanne, yay! So glad you’re able to participate. And I understand the sense of loss of not having others to read books with :).

  14. Rachel Kahindi February 15, 2018

    I really related to Edgar’s thought in the jungle that it wasn’t like what he’d read about. “Perhaps this is a different kind of jungle.” Then he tries and fails to identify any of the plants around him. I remember driving down the road here in Kenya and realizing that I could identify plants – I had been around long enough to learn their names!

    I enjoyed the time in Mandalay, experiencing the culture with Edgar in a positive way. I love that he recognizes the local art and music in his letter to Katherine. Then he says, “This is not to say we should not bring such things to Burma; perhaps only that it should be done with more humility.”

    1. Amy Young February 16, 2018

      Rachel, this makes me smile — the thought of you identifying plants and realizing you could! Funny how what makes us feel at home, we might not have articulated it ahead of time, but when the moment comes and we feel “at home”, the sense is so strong and so welcoming.

  15. Sarah Hilkemann February 15, 2018

    I must confess I’m reading ahead, but I’ll try to stick to this week’s section. 🙂 I feel like Edgar is an excellent example of a worker crossing cultures. He jumps in to try things, ask questions, observes, realizes his culture isn’t perfect and that perhaps the expats haven’t got it all figured out. He is such a learner, and I was struck that I may have lost some of that position of humility after 5 years in my country.
    I’m also super excited about the books coming up! I have Humble Roots on my to-read list already. 🙂

    1. Amy Young February 16, 2018

      Sarah, I was also struck by Edgar showing so many good ways to approach being a cross-cultural worker. Funny how we (or at least I) think “they” didn’t do it “right” back then. And true, many didn’t, but some sure did! #TeamEdgar

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