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The Teahouse Fire

3.46  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,652 Ratings  ·  385 Reviews
“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 wear
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Paperback, 465 pages
Published December 4th 2007 by Riverhead Books (first published January 1st 2000)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Elizabeth
Jan 03, 2008 Elizabeth rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2007, novels
This novel -- about Japanese tea ceremony -- was full of promise as a light, quick plane read, but man, did it not deliver. Two weeks later I was still mired in it. I think it needed a good editor to trim it down by about 100 pages. It was way too long and covered, in my opinion, way too much time. I'd definitely give it an "A" for research and historical details, but the grades go down when it comes to plot, character development and plausibility.

Tocotin
Oh, I have no luck with my reads recently. This one is a strangely unpleasant book, whose sycophantic nature is symbolized by the main character's life story.

The character, a French/American girl named Aurelie, wants the readers to believe that she's had a miserable childhood. Born in 1857, she's never known her father, and her mother was taken in by her priest brother (Aurelie's uncle), and placed in a New York school run by nuns, as a servant. The mother despises the nuns and laughs at her bro
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Sandra
Jul 05, 2011 Sandra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A lushly written story. Reading reviews of people saying this book was "about Japanese tea ceremony" makes me scratch my head in wonder at what they must miss on a daily basis. The changing tea ceremony - a truly unique art form - is symbolic of the westernization of Japan as it approached the turn of the 19th century. An ancient and civilized society losing ground against the encroaching west is the larger story. The smaller stories are all beautifully drawn, the tale of the little Parisienne w ...more
Leya
Feb 10, 2013 Leya rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What I can say after such a blurb? Well, let's see...It's wonderful novel, the story is beautiful and compelling, the history is interesting and thought provoking, and I have incredible desire to learn more about a culture and nation that never really interested me much before. It's not my first time reading a novel set in Japan, I read Memoirs of a Geisha, but this book really brings the culture to light in my opinion. It makes me want to learn more and to experience the tea ceremonies.

I loved
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Ann
Jan 12, 2009 Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and find the complaints about it silly. Yes it is long and detailed. But that was the beauty of it. Until the 1850's, Japan was a closed society and few foreigners were allowed to enter. When Aurelia is found by the Shin family, they can't even identify her and don't know how to classify her. So they make her a maid and sometimes treat her as a member of the family.

Many years ago, I went to an exhibit of Yokohama wood-block prints from that era. Foreigners were dra
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Peter
Feb 15, 2009 Peter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A lush and surprising look inside the world of a Japanese tea house at a time when the West was inching it's way into Japan, The Teahouse Fire is rich in historical notes but burns brightly with a story that will keep you engaged. As the main character begins to unravel the mysteries of the Japanese language around her, so too she begins to see into a world that very few outsiders ever experience.

The difficult part for some may be keeping track of all of the Japanese names and their own stories
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Kristen
Aug 12, 2008 Kristen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2008
Okay, so I am having a really hard time with this book. It's very well written, and you can tell that the author really put a lot of effort into researching this book. The detail is amazing!

However, the story is not drawing me in and I am find it boring over all. Which is a shame, because I thought it had a lot of potential to be a great read.

There seems to be more fact than story, and that would ordinarily be fine, except for the fact that I picked it up to read fiction and fall in love with
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Heather
Mar 22, 2010 Heather rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I rarely don't finish a book. I really, really tried with this one, too. I gave it about 200 pages before I finally just had to give up. It was just so boring. I think the author really, really wanted to write a story about the Japanese tea ceremony and just had to throw together some story to wrap around it. The premise sounded interesting, but this book absolutely does not deliver. I wanted to like this book, I really did, but after all that I read, I found that I really just didn't care at al ...more
Manik Sukoco
Jan 06, 2016 Manik Sukoco rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I totally agree with Maxine Hong Kingston. "Delicious" is the only way to describe this book. The writing is elegant, the main character's voice is so believable (even though she is in an unbelievable situation), and the attention to detail regarding language, clothing, and food is stunning.
Memoirs of a Geisha and Tales of Murasaki, of course, are the pearls of this genre, but The Teahouse Fire offers a wonderful look at lives centered around the tea ceremony. The life is seen from a variety of
...more
Laura
Apr 17, 2014 Laura rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I don't know how many times I truly started and stopped this book, I lost count!! I bought this book a few years ago when it was heavily reduced price and now I think I know why :/

When I glossed over the blurb I loved the idea of going back into historic Japan and the culture behind tea making and that in itself had my interest BUT this book lacks editing (or STRICT editing for better words)! I never realised there was going to be a lesbian plot line through out the book (which shows you how muc
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Robin
Jan 23, 2010 Robin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Robin by: Dr. Nina Egert (anthropologist)
What an amazingly beautiful book. I spent many a night with eyes burning and asking me to shut them, but I just could not put this book down. I read it over a few days this cold winter wrapped in my favorite quilt, sipping my favorite tea transported to Japan and the lovely world of temae. A wonderful addition and awesome treat to this read was visiting a lovely, serene tea house in Oakland and learning about the ceremony from none other than Yoshi of Yoshi's Restaurant and Jazz Club.

Favorite qu
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Karen
Jan 23, 2012 Karen rated it really liked it
I will admit that I listened to this book (on audible) rather than having read it. So that probably affected how I experienced the detail rich descriptions and pacing of plot, etc...

That said - I loved this book. I loved the authors treatment of the subtleties and nuances of so many aspects of Japanese culture... and then the depth of research and understanding shown in the treatment of how the cultural changes of the time period (1860's - 1920's or so)impacted Japan, both at broad cultural and
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Wan Ni
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Diane
I loved this book but the epilogue spoiled it -DO NOT READ THE EPILOGUE. But do enjoy the rest of the book. It is set in Japan in the last half of the 19th century as the Meiji period allows the Westernization of Japan. The protagonist is a young orphaned French-American girl who comes to Japan with her missionary Uncle; on arrival her Uncle is killed in a fire and she is adopted as a serving girl by a Japanese family known for its tea ceremony - okay that is a device but it works wonderfully. I ...more
Dlhmoore
Oct 31, 2012 Dlhmoore rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel
It's hard to review this book. It begins inn 1866 in Japan when Eastern culture is beginning to influence Japanese culture. A young American girl is suddenly orphaned in Kyoto and is taken in by a Japanese woman barely older than she is. The girl is raised as Japanese and works as a friend, servant and companion of the Japanese woman who takes her in.

The book is a study of the tea ceremony so important in the culture and a study in the mores of life in that society. The many many tiers of socie
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Tanya Santiago
Feb 09, 2009 Tanya Santiago rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Reading this book was like a secret peek into late 19th/early 20th century Japan. It was very unique because it was told from the perspective of a foreigner who knew little more than Japan, since she went there as such a young child. Orphaned and wandering, she was adopted, in part, by a Japanese family. This book was humbling and sometimes embarassing to read as a Westerner. It was interesting, also, to think about prejudices different people who live in the same society have against each other ...more
Rdonn
Jan 11, 2011 Rdonn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really wanted to like this book, and could admire some lovely writing. However, it left me cold. I couldn't become interested in the people. The tea ceremony is fascinating, but I truly couldn't tell you much about it. I needed a glossary of Japanese words in the back, and a list of characters, and even a family tree would have helped keep the different people straight. If it hadn't been a book club book, I would have probably given up after 100 page, but I persisted. Our group was divided wit ...more
The Lost Lola
Review:

While this book was a historically intriguing read, I found the main character to be pretty unlikeable and lacking in substance. It seems the ONLY way you figure out what kind of a person she is is through the eyes of those around her, which vary greatly. The main reason I gave this 3/5 stars is because reading the summary, I thought it would be a sweet book about a SISTERLY relationship, not a lesbian relationship (of which there are a few). It made for pretty akward discussion with my m
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Racquel
Jul 16, 2008 Racquel rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Renee Mcgrath
Apr 21, 2016 Renee Mcgrath rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery is a lovely complex novel about a French girl living in New York with her mother, who is a housekeeper at a convent. When her mother dies (presumably of tuberculosis) the girl accompanies her uncle, a priest on a mission to Japan. After her uncle fondles her, and a fire breaks out in the house they are staying in, the girl escapes and finds refuge in a tea house. She is taken in by the family as a servant to the tea maker's daughter.

For the next 25 years, she liv
...more
nimrodiel
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kathleen Hulser
Deciphering the language of tea in Meiji Japan. Tea ceremony is a way to talk about class and relationships and status and secrets and power. With echoes from such Japanese classics as Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book nad Lady Murasaki, Ellis Avery weaves a tale of life unfolding in delicate layers. It's all deliberately blurred in the chiascuro of a shoji screen, the fall of a family from inside the compound's gates, as Japan opens to the West. The narrator a Western orphan adopted as a servant liter ...more
Rebecca
Sep 13, 2010 Rebecca rated it it was ok
If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be tedious. I'm not sure how, since her writing seems elegant, almost delicate on the surface, but Avery manages to suck all the life out of subjects I otherwise would be interested in: Japan, food, 19th century America, the clash of cultures. For all its attention to detail and deep understanding of temae (or maybe because of, come to think of it), none of the characters in The Teahouse Fire ever quite come to life.
Katy
Jan 13, 2015 Katy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating, heartrending, beautiful.
Kirsty
Apr 20, 2016 Kirsty rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japan
Firstly, I think it's safe to say that you have to have at least some interest in Japanese tea ceremony if you are going to finish this novel! The detail in which Avery describes 'temae' is fascinating, especially since any tea ceremony I have come across when reading has only been in relation to geishas and so has not been approached so closely. The tea ceremony embodies traditional Japan struggling to hold on in the face of Westernization in the Meji period, yet also demonstrates the ability t ...more
Amanda
Feb 09, 2016 Amanda rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Nada mais frustrante que um livro que promete ser incrível e do nada vira uma porcaria
Michelle Olsen
Feb 08, 2016 Michelle Olsen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical, fiction
I'm going to say this first-- If you enjoyed Memoirs of a Geisha, you may enjoy this, OR notice similarities in some of the scenes. I know one of the scenes immediately grabbed my attention for this, and I couldn't help but wonder exactly how close the two actually were. And i'm going to discuss this first;

When I was nine, in the city now called Kyoto, I changed my fate. I walked into the shrine through the red arch and struck the bell. I bowed twice. I clapped twice. I whispered to the foreign
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Budapescht
Jul 15, 2014 Budapescht rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Delicious" is the only way to describe this book. The writing is elegant, the main character's voice is so believable (even though she is in an unbelievable situation), and the attention to detail regarding language, clothing, and food is stunning.

Memoirs of a Geisha and Tales of Murasaki, of course, are the pearls of this genre, but The Teahouse Fire offers a wonderful look at lives centered around the tea ceremony. The life is seen from a variety of perspectives, including the devastation to
...more
Dan Gobble
This book reminded me of Memories of Silk and Straw and another titled Spring Moon, in that these all include as a theme the major shift in culture which took place at the time of the industrial revolution going on in Europe and the U.S. The culture of modernizing West meeting East brought with it many reactions, among them resistance to change on one extreme, along with the wholesale embracing of change on the other hand. In between these two extremes is where this story is set. In this story c ...more
Crannie
Apr 29, 2008 Crannie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this after reading Memoirs of a Geisha. The cultural insights from "a time before me" were so interesting. I have found that I really like fictional history and/or historical fiction.
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The only writer ever to have received the American Library Association Stonewall Award for Fiction twice, Ellis Avery is the author of two novels, a memoir, and a book of poetry. Her novels, The Last Nude (Riverhead 2012) and The Teahouse Fire (Riverhead 2006) have also received Lambda, Ohioana, and Golden Crown awards, and her work has been translated into six languages. She teaches fiction writi ...more
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