The Teahouse Fire
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The Teahouse Fire

3.44 of 5 stars 3.44  ·  rating details  ·  2,176 ratings  ·  344 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...more
Paperback, 465 pages
Published December 4th 2007 by Riverhead Trade (first published January 1st 2000)
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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.

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...more
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...more
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...more
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
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...more
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...more
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
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...more
Jan 23, 2010 Robin rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
Wan Ni
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
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...more
Tanya Santiago
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
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

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...more
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
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.
"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
Told from the point of view of a foreign adolescent and, as such, has about as much insight as a foreign adolescent can provide. Also, it's heavy on 19th century Japanese customs - saying what custom dictates and not what you really feel or think. So I didn't understand much of what was REALLY happening and had to infer and guess. The details that would have brought me into the story more were lacking and I only ever had a vague sense of - well, anything. Often, it wasn't until many pages later...more
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.
I spent hours in the teahouse culture of Japan, and with its characters, while reading this book.
This book follows the format of a diary, in that only spurts of interesting plot twist occurs sporadically throughout the novel. I kept thinking to myself, "why would she do that?" and "she just snuck in a very important discovery as a footnote..why?" Even the ending was strange, with everyone living happily ever after; arguments forgotten and lover reunited. Not very realistic after all the effort she put into making the heroine's ongoing position in the story as real as possible. I did enjoy a...more
Madeline Benoit
This book had the potential to be SO GOOD. But I found myself absolutely STRUGGLING to get through parts of it...and then other parts had me wanting to read more. I would almost say I would give this book a solid 2.5 stars rather than just 3 stars, but it just wasn't quite there.

The main character is horrid. There just isn't any other word for it. I was more interested in following Yukako (the Japanese woman who the main character serves basically for the whole book), but alas. I appreciated th...more
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...more
Whitney Cowling
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
The Teahouse Fire offers a sweeping look at a time of tremendous historical upheaval: 19th century Japan emerging from the Tokugawa Shogunate into the Meiji Restoration and opening up to the western world. Aurelia is the first-person fictional memoirist born in New York to a French mother and is brought to Kyoto, Japan by her missionary uncle. By a twist of fate she ends up adopted by the Shin household, masters and teachers of the Japanese tea ceremony. Aurelia, renamed Urako, is a servant-cum-...more
This was both a delightful and frustrating listen. There were many times where I felt like giving up on the book, but am glad that I stuck with it. It takes place in late 1800's Japan and portrays the dramatic societal changes both in Japan and the world through the lens of traditional Tea Ceremony and the relationships of the people involved. The book is long and I often wished it had been edited down - I think it could still have told the story in a shorter form. I kept thinking "less detail!"...more
I had to really push myself to finish this book. I appreciate it as a sort very detailed historical fiction novel, but it is sorely lacking in suspense. There is a sort of loop at the end with the fire and re-meeting of some old friends, not only Inko but Keiko also, that was a nice tie in.

I think once you break this story down into it's smallest elements, you get a variety of literary greatness, but as a whole, is just not working for me.

The intense sexuality of the men surprised me a bit. I kn...more
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