Claire Pendleton is a newly married Englishwoman whose husband's job takes them to Hong Kong in 1952. She is a naive, insecure young woman who ends up teaching piano lessons to the daughter of a prominant Chinese family. There she meets their enigmatic chauffeur with whom she has an affair. We discover in flashbacks why Will Truesdale, the chauffeur is so enigmatic as the events of 1942 Hong Kong are retold as well as his then affair with a Eurasian named Trudy Liang.
The historical aspect of the novel was very interesting. I would have liked more of it in the novel and less of the relationships between Trudy and Will, and Claire and Will, although then I guess it would have been a completely different book because the focus of the book was Will. He was what connected the two time periods and all the different characters in the book. The problem was, I just didn't like him very much, or Trudy, or Claire for that matter. They all seemed extremely self-centered.
I thought that the writing was beautifully done. I found myself caught up in the story and the setting. I could picture myself in Hong Kong with the humdity and the amahs. However I didn't care for the constant back and forth between the two time periods. It was a bit choppy. I also thought that the ending didn't resolve the story well. I was left with too many questions. I don't want to say too much or I'll spoil the story but I was left wanting more. The language was quite clean, very few obscenities, and there was some violence, graphic in parts but not overly done. The most objectionable parts of the book would be when the affairs are discussed, and the fact that they take place at all. The actual sex scenes are not particularly graphic.
I found it especially interesting that Claire was offended by a man in Algiers who kissed a donkey and smelled badly but she didn't have a problem marrying a man she didn't love (who was she to be picky?), having an affair with a man who treated her unkindly, and stealing from her employer. She did eventually feel remorse for the stealing.
I would have to rate this book PG-16 for the affairs, some talk about sexual favors given during wartime, and for some of the wartime violence. It definitely is a book only for older teens and adults.