Oh my word.
Now we know what happens to The Piano Tuner (by Daniel Mason).
At the end of the book, my mind bounced from thoughts of Katherine, to Khin Myo, to Edgar himself.
I had to remind myself of how much—or really how little—time passed from when he was commissioned until his execution. I think it was about seven months: one to prepare in England, one to travel to Burma, several weeks in Burma to get to and wait in Mandalay, and three or four months in Mae Lwin. That’s it.
I loved last week when Kiera said in the comments that on the surface, really so little had happened. Edgar went to Burma. He tuned a piano. And, at that point, there was still 22% of the book left. How could it be that eight months before, Edgar surely knew of Burma, but had no special interest in it, and now his —and Katherine’s—lives would be changed forever?
I will return to Edgar and questions I have, but before that, let’s talk about the two women who, though not mentioned much, are strong presences in the book.
When Edgar realized they had never sent any of his letters, my heart sank. What was the last news she received from him? Would it have been when he wrote to her from Rangoon before heading to Mandalay? And then nothing for months. And then to be told he had deserted the army (when the army made it clear it was they who commissioned Edgar, not Dr. Carroll). And then he was executed as he escaped after being arrested.
She must have been reeling, to have a black hole of information and no one to ask. I cannot imagine the pain.
In a twist of odd timing, last Friday night I had dinner with a teammate from the summer of 2006. We spent several weeks together in Tibet and she now lives in Denver. After dinner, as her three young children wrestled around us, somehow after all these years we touched on our teammate Carol.
Carol was around my age at the time, mid-30s, single, a teacher, and proud auntie. Unlike me, she had a serious boyfriend who just could not pull the trigger and propose, though they had dated for years. We clicked. I knew we would be friends post trip. That summer she had horrible back pain and I spent a lot of time helping her try and find relief.
When the trip was over, she flew back to America and I flew to Beijing to help my organization with the orientation for those new to the field. I received an email from Carol that the doctors couldn’t figure out what was going on but thought it was a parasite. That was the last communication we had.
The next email was from our organization saying she had liver cancer and had one week to be at home before she would be taken to a hospice facility.
The next email was that she had died. Because of privacy policies (these were new at the time and people were still figuring boundaries) we could send a condolence card to the headquarters, but we could have no contact with her mother.
I was so thrown by her death and the suddenness of it. We were just in Tibet. She was alive and we were serving together and having adventures. And now I couldn’t even tell her mom how sorry and shocked I was? How knowing her daughter, albeit briefly, meant something to me.
I knew her hometown in Nebraska so I searched online and found three people who could be her mom and I called them. I found Carol’s mom. Long story short, her mother was grateful to hear about Carol’s summer because there hadn’t been time to talk, to share stories, to go over pictures. Her mom asked if she could mail me all of Carol’s pictures and if I would label who was in them, where we were, and what we were doing.
Of course I said yes. It helped me. It helped Carol’s mom. But who can help Katherine make sense of this tragic ending?
Katherine, you may be fictional, but you are real to me and I’m sorry.
The foreign men in Khin Myo’s life and the way they used their power disturbs me. How many of us have seen vulnerable young people have interactions with “powerful” foreigners that are questionable at best, and abusive at worst. Help me if I’m recalling incorrectly, but she had two foreign teachers, one seems to be fatherly and one seems to be a creepy sexual predator. She was in a relationship with Dr. Carroll and because we only see and understand what Edgar does, it is not clear her true feelings. Even if she does love him and is willingly in a relationship with him, let’s not fool ourselves. She has limited options and could “only” work at the guesthouse because Captain Nash helped her find employment in the guesthouse. And then Edgar entered the story. He was both loyal and disloyal to the boundaries he should have had with both Katherine and Khin Myo. Talk about a blurring of lines.
Oh Khin Myo, you too are fictional, but your experience with foreign men in power is all too real and I’m sorry.
Near the end, it clicked for me how much of what I knew was filtered through Edgar’s eyes. And as people who lived or have lived overseas, we know how much we sometimes think we understand; but the truth is we understand so much less than we think we do. Most of us will not have to pay for our ignorance (or limited understanding) with death.
Questions I have and we can discuss in the comments:
—What was keeping Edgar in Mae Lwin? Do you think he thought he would really leave?
—Why was being in Mae Lwin so life-altering for Edgar?
—Do you think the peace that Dr. Carroll brokered really happened? Or did Edgar misunderstand what was going on?
—Was Dr. Carroll a Russian spy? Did he send Khin Myo to flirt with Edgar?
—Who do you find believable at the end? Where are you questioning what you thought you understood?
Let’s keep talking in the comments. Next week we start our reading of Humble Roots and Scouting the Divine. See the reading schedule below. Thank you for engaging so much with this book. I have loved our discussions!
The reading plan for
March 6—The intros to the two books (Wonderment in SD, Sowing Seeds in HR)
March 13—Part 1 (The Good Shepherd) in SD
March 20— Chapters 1 and 2 in HR
March 27—Chapters 3 and 4 in HR
April 3—Part 3 (Land of Milk and Honey) in SD
April 10—Chapters 5 and 6 in HR
April 17—Part 4 (The Vine) in SD (Retreat this weekend!)
April 24—Last week was retreat so to have time to focus on the retreat, no extra reading his week. We will have a Get to Know and get back to reading this week. Also, I will announce the summer reading!
May 1—Chapter 7 in HR
May 8—Chapters 8 and 9 in HR
May 15—Part 2 (The Harvest) in SD
May 22—Chapters 10 and 11 in HR
May 29—We made it! Two books read in tandem we will review and have a Get to Know