The Piano Maker

by Kurt Palka

4.5 stars, actually.

In spare prose and multitudinous flashbacks, Palka tells us the story of Helene Giroux, a french woman who arrives in a small French Canadian town to play the piano in their Catholic church.

But as the flashbacks and the story reveals, this piano player also used to be the daughter of a famous piano maker. She also used to be married. She also used to travel a lot with a slightly shady but personable businessman.

And in this small town, the rumors about a court case she was involved with are catching up to her, and she may be in double jeopardy for a decision made in the howling snow of the far north that has changed the course of her life forever.

We get lots and lots of piano making details which are fun: kinds of wood for veneers, talking about tuning three string keys. Helene Giroux’s present life in the town is seen through the spare prose, such that oft times the emotional impact of a towns person choosing to come to tea with her is slight, only after did I realize those little acts meant.

And Helene herself is often fatalistic and accepting of the ways in which life, and in particular hte businessman, has been unfair to her which was difficult to watch/read at times.

But all in all this historical novel does well what such novels should: makes you care enough about the heroine that when learning about piano wood veneers, or aboriginal antiquities, or the unending parade of young french officers through her wartime-torn factory it doesn’t seem like learning at all. I would certainly read more by Palka, but with the knowledge his books are more repressed/restrained emotion than sweeping angst.