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Medical Mystery

How did third-year med student Daniel Mason find time to write a stunning first novel set in Burma in 1886?

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This season's unlikeliest literary discovery is Daniel Mason, a 26-year-old medical student in San Francisco. He wrote The Piano Tuner between classes and used the year he spent studying malaria on the Thailand-Myanmar border as raw material. "You spend so much time memorizing and running through lists in the first years of med school," Mason says, "that there was an appeal to thinking about another place, a different time; it was an escape into the imagination." Early reviews of the novel, about a British piano tuner sent into the jungles of Burma to fix the instrument of an obsessed and influential British officer, have been rhapsodic, and Knopf is printing 150,000 copies. The plot required Mason to immerse himself in musical lore and history. "I played clarinet in the high-school band," says Mason, who grew up in Palo Alto, California. "I don't have any musical background. But I began with this image of a piano in a jungle, being drawn by elephants, in a cart." If the prose has a hallucinogenic quality at times -- a Heart of Darkness voyage into exotic dreams and a mysterious culture -- Mason has a practical explanation. "I wrote on no sleep," he says. "I had no time."

The Piano Tuner
by Daniel Mason
(Knopf; September)

Buy it on bn.com


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