Review: The Piano Maker – Kurt Palka

2017: 7
4/5 stars
Published September 2016

Helene Giroux arrives at a small town on the French North Shore of Nova Scotia circa the mid 1930s. She is looking for a fresh start after what is hinted as a traumatic experience. We know this due to her sadness, nightmares and reluctance to talk about it. She has a grown daughter and is a widow with money, so it seems. She is the last of a family of piano makers who had a factory in a small town in France. Her mother trained her  after her father died and eventually, after her mother’s death, she took over and ran the business. Before that, a man, Nathan Homewood, approaches them and proposes a lucrative business deal that will expose North America to her company’s pianos and a long, at times dubious association, on again and off again, with this man is started.

Helene’s story is told moving from her present day in the village to her past, her marriage, daughter, widowhood, survival through the war, her move to Montreal to raise her daughter. She travels with Nathan in a partnership to obtain and resell historic artifacts until it all goes badly in the North of Canada. She settles in at the village, playing the piano in the cathedral and taking the choir in hand, slowly making friends and a life for herself. Little by little, we are led through her past story until that past comes back to her in the present with the arrival of the police.

The characters are really well depicted and the narrative is vivid. The story is easy to follow through the time shifts back and forth and I was very interested to find out the truth of the accusations towards Helene. There were a few “wait, what?” moments like Helene being able to learn how to control a team of sled dogs in a matter of days or the discovery of a dinosaur skull that still had scraps of skin and bone on it. The inevitable “Lassie” moment was a bit groan-worthy but these things do actually happen (trying not to spoil it too much, here).

There’s a trial and the remainder of Helene’s story is told here. I liked the ending as well, with the verdict of the trial not quite what I expected, but which was satisfactory. I think I enjoyed it even more because of the location of the village, in an area of my province where I’ve been and could picture.

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