The Teahouse Fire

The Teahouse Fire

4.3 16
by Ellis Avery
     
 

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“Like attending seasons of elegant tea parties—each one resplendent with character and drama. Delicious.”—Maxine Hong Kingston

The story of two women whose lives intersect in late-nineteenth-century Japan, The Teahouse Fire is also a portrait of one of the most fascinating places and times in all of history—Japan asSee more details below

Overview

“Like attending seasons of elegant tea parties—each one resplendent with character and drama. Delicious.”—Maxine Hong Kingston

The story of two women whose lives intersect in late-nineteenth-century Japan, The Teahouse Fire is also a portrait of one of the most fascinating places and times in all of history—Japan as it opens its doors to the West. It was a period when wearing a different color kimono could make a political statement, when women stopped blackening their teeth to profess an allegiance to Western ideas, and when Japan’s most mysterious rite—the tea ceremony—became not just a sacramental meal, but a ritual battlefield.

We see it all through the eyes of Aurelia, an American orphan adopted by the Shin family, proprietors of a tea ceremony school, after their daughter, Yukako, finds her hiding on their grounds. Aurelia becomes Yukako’s closest companion, and they, the Shin family, and all of Japan face a time of great challenges and uncertainty. Told in an enchanting and unforgettable voice, The Teahouse Fire is a lively, provocative, and lushly detailed historical novel of epic scope and compulsive readability.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In 1865, nine-year-old Aurelia Caillard is taken from New York to Japan by her missionary uncle Charles while her ailing mother dies at home. Charles soon vanishes in a fire (not the one of the title), leaving Aurelia orphaned and alone in Kyoto. She is taken in by Yukako, the teenage daughter of the Shin family, master teachers of temae, or tea ceremony. Aurelia, narrating as an elderly woman, tells of living as Yukako's servant and younger sister, and how what begins as grateful puppy love for Yukako matures over years into a deeply painful unrequited obsession. Against a backdrop of a convulsively Westernizing Japan, Avery brings the conflicts of modernization into the teahouse, and into Aurelia and Yukako's beds, where jealousy over lovers threatens to tear them apart. In one memorable instance, Yukako, struggling to bring money in for the family, crosses class lines and gives temae lessons to a geisha in exchange for lessons on the shamisen, a seductive (and potentially profitable) string instrument. Eventually stuck in a painful marriage, Yukako labors to adapt the ancient tea ceremony to the changing needs of the modern world, resulting in a breathtaking confrontation. Avery, making her debut, has crafted a magisterial novel that is equal parts love story, imaginative history and bildungsroman, a story as alluring as it is powerful. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Avery's compelling debut novel presents women who dare to challenge expectations in the changing cultural landscape of 19th-century Japan. The Shin family has taught the tea ceremony for generations, but daughter Yukako is expected to marry the next master teacher instead of assuming the role herself. When Yukako discovers white American Aurelia hiding from her abusive missionary uncle on the Shin estate, she takes her in as a servant-companion and secretly teaches her the family arts. But can their friendship survive the changes that sweep Japan as the 20th century begins? Readers who enjoy historical fiction will be dazzled by Avery's attention to detail, savoring her descriptions of each kimono and tea implement. Those who like plot twists will relish the epic cast of characters who help and hinder Aurelia and Yukako as they mature. An homage to Virginia Woolf's Orlando in both style and theme, Avery's ambitious endeavor is the perfect companion for a series of cold winter nights. Recommended for medium to large fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/06.]-Leigh Anne Vrabel, Carnegie Lib. of Pittsburgh Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Japan welcomes the West in this historical tale from a first-time novelist. In 1865, Aurelia Bernard was a little girl living with her mother and her uncle, a Catholic priest, in New York. By 1866, she was an orphan, working as a servant for the Shin family in Kyoto. The head of the Shin household-a large, impressive old man Aurelia refers to as "the Mountain"-is a master of the tea ceremony. When the novel begins, the Mountain enjoys the high status and state-subsidized income of an artist. But Aurelia's story encompasses the Meiji period, when Japan was opened to Westerners and their modern ideas and technologies, and when indigenous phenomena like the tea ceremony-as well as its practitioners-continued to exist only by adapting to a strange new reality. This is not, however, the type of sweeping historical fiction that musters a cast of thousands. It is, instead, a record of one family's fortunes during a tumultuous time. The central character is not Urako-the name Aurelia receives from her new family-but Yukako, the Mountain's daughter. She's a compelling character, and Urako is an observant and generally eloquent chronicler. Readers who enjoy historical fiction for the exotic details will appreciate her depictions of women with blackened teeth, the care and maintenance of kimono and, of course, the intricacies of the tea ceremony. But Urako is, perhaps, a little too faithful to the history she's describing. Few events, it seems, are beneath her notice, and neither the narrator nor the author seems willing to distinguish interesting incidents from tedious bits of exposition. When the politics of the Meiji Restoration impoverish the Shin family, the Mountain's mother makes severaltrips to the pawn shop, while Yukako embarks on some rather bold and innovative entrepreneurial endeavors; the latter are much more exciting than the former, but both receive much the same narrative attention. Avery writes with a self-assured lyricism-her poetic images are often quite arresting, and only occasionally florid or cliched-but this doesn't entirely offset the glacial pace of the story. A confident, original but slightly wearying debut.
From the Publisher
“Caruso's captivating, rich voice perfectly mirrors the stately prose, brings life to all the characters, male and female, and shepherds listeners peacefully through all the complexities of decades of names, places, time and plot.”
Kliatt

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101217528
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
12/04/2007
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
480
Sales rank:
289,250
File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Provides true pleasure to the intellect and all the senses."
Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Ellis Avery studied tea ceremony for several years, so it makes sense that the ritual dominates her first novel. She shares every subtlety of the ancient art...Attention to detail is admirable...Urako is a compelling character."
Entertainment Weekly

"Saturated with color and detail; [Avery] manages to make nineteenth-century Japan both accessible and exotic, infusing her story with a sense of dignified calm...[A] deeply engrossing, multifaceted work."
The Boston Globe

"A magisterial novel that is equal parts love story, imaginative history and bildungsroman, a story as alluring as it is powerful."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A memorable saga...Avery adroitly conveys the intricacies of the tea ceremony, 'the language of diplomacy,' and the subtle ways in which it was transformed as Japan moved from a Shogun society to one ruled by the emperor. At the same time, she illuminates vivid period details."
Booklist

"Avery writes with a self-assured lyricism...Quite arresting...confident [and] original."
Kirkus Reviews

"Readers who enjoy historical fiction will be dazzled by Avery's attention to detail, savoring her descriptions...Those who like plot twists will relish the epic cast of characters...An homage to Virgina Woolf's Orlando in both style and theme, Avery's ambitious andeavor is the perfect companion for a series of cold winter nights."
Library Jounral

"In The Teahouse Fire, aesthetic rules vie with politics, sex, and human feeling. Avery has whipped up a heady brew."
—Liza Dalby, author of The Tale of Murasaki 

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