The story behind "The Piano Tuner," Daniel Mason's 2002 debut novel, has become, in itself, the stuff of fiction. Mason, who...

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“A Far Country”
by Daniel Mason
Knopf, 271 pp., $24

The story behind “The Piano Tuner,” Daniel Mason’s 2002 debut novel, has become, in itself, the stuff of fiction.

Mason, who was just 26 when the highly acclaimed best-seller was released, wrote the book while attending medical school in San Francisco. At the time, he called it a “wonderful complement to hours of rote memorization.”

Yeah, whatever.

Readers wondered whether the book was a fluke, a one-hit wonder, so to speak. It was an exquisitely crafted historical drama featuring a docile London piano tuner who gets summoned by the Crown to leave behind his wife and travel 5,000 miles to war-torn Burma — all to repair an eccentric army officer’s piano.

Author appearance

Daniel Mason will read from “A Far Country” at 6 p.m. Thursday at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co. (206-624-6600; and at 7 p.m. Friday at the University Book Store’s Seattle location (206-634-3400;

With the release of “A Far Country,” Mason’s follow-up, all doubts should vanish.

Like its predecessor, the novel is set in an exotic locale — presumably somewhere in South America, though Mason never says where — and it brings to life complex central characters: Isabel, a 14-year-old girl; Isaias, her older brother; and the drought.

It’s the lack of rain that plays the pivotal role in the narrative, prompting Isaias, and later Isabel, to go to “the city” in the rural family’s largely unsuccessful effort to earn money and survive the punishing heat and cruel lack of rain.

Mason’s descriptions are his strength. Readers will feel the dry mouths of babies, see the dusty fields, hear the rumbling of hungry bellies.

The still-young author’s use of language reflects the skill and maturity of a true natural talent. He can beautifully illuminate the simplest, everyday incidents such as a rainy day in a crowded city: “In the street, people swept pillows of water off the thresholds of their houses. They dug narrow trenches, funneling the run-off into frothing, coffee-colored streams.”

The only distraction in Mason’s beautifully told, heart-wrenching tale is his need to impress readers with his broad vocabulary. A horse is “spavined” rather than “lame,” a fiddle has a “threnodial,” not a “sad or somber” sound.

It’s distracting — and unnecessary.

Since the release of “The Piano Tuner,” which has been adapted as a play and an opera and is in preproduction as a film, Mason has finished medical school. He hasn’t yet done his residency and is at work on a new book.

Thank goodness.