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The Teahouse Fire

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  3,286 ratings  ·  452 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
Hardcover, 391 pages
Published December 28th 2006 by Riverhead Hardcover (first published January 1st 2000)
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Average rating 3.49  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,286 ratings  ·  452 reviews

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Dec 17, 2007 rated it it was ok
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.

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
Jul 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Kristy Lin Billuni
Dec 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Here's a funny story about this book: it is long, and I am a slow reader. I had checked it out of the library, and when the due date approached, renewed it online. I do this a lot, but with this book, it happened three times.

And that’s how I learned that after three checkouts, the library requires you to return a book to let other people have a chance. I thought of defying this rule and refusing to return it, but in the end, I am a good library citizen. So I returned the book unfinished.

“Let me
Feb 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Manik Sukoco
Jan 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 28, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Sep 15, 2019 rated it liked it
The Teahouse Fire is a historical novel that takes place mostly in Japan and it highlights the dramatic transition in Japan during the Meiji Restoration as the country was willingly and unwillingly subjected to Western influence. The story is shown through the eyes of French American Aurelia/Urako who becomes a servant in the household of a Japanese tea master in the mid-1800s.

The way the author gets Aurelia/Urako to Japan was incredibly convoluted. In fact, there was a lot about the plot that
Wan Ni
Sep 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 22, 2010 rated it did not like it
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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
So...This books is extremely tiring. The author puts so many details at things that couldn't matter. Really, this just expanded the numbers of pages, because if the reader don't have knowledge of the Japanese culture is just confusing.
Anyway...Almost in the end the book was okay...Although I don't like of unrequited love
Viv JM
dnf @ 19%. This really isn't grabbing me at all. Maybe I'll return to it at a later date
Sep 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club
I skimmed much of The Teahouse Fire. In itself that isn't condemnation as I ordered a copy late and rushed to finish in time for book-club. And while I enjoyed the passages I read, I felt relief at not reading every word. Had I taken the time to savor the words properly, the full read would likely have taken months.

For this is a sedate novel with a sedate subject; Japanese tea ceremony. And the scope of the story is lengthy to match the length of the novel. It tells the story of Aurelia from y
Apr 10, 2014 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
Jan 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Sep 04, 2018 rated it liked it
1866, Aurelia Bernard, French American 10 years old, comes to Japan with her uncle, who is a missionary.

Upon arrival, she learns about five castes: “warriors, or samurai, at the top, then farmers, craftsmen, merchants, and the unclean. They all have to follow the caste laws about every little thing: what kind of clothing you can wear, what kind of roof you can put on your house.”

First she was orphaned by her mother, now by her uncle.

She finds herself at a teahouse Baishian of the Shin family wh
Tanya Santiago
Feb 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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 found a lot of this book a slog to get through, but I really enjoyed the last sixth of it. Hmmm...
Jan 04, 2019 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 30, 2020 rated it liked it
The difficulty in reading this book was that I know little of Japanese culture (though I can tie an obi, thanks to a long-ago community theatre production of The Mikado) and less of the time period in which Japan first opened its doors to the west. The gift in reading this book is that I now know more about both these things, though I must admit my lack of cultural understanding caused me to have to push myself through some parts of the book when my western brain was shreiking, "It's just tea, f ...more
This book took ages to finish. Too slow with too many details but on the other hand a lovely portrait of the 19th century Japan.
And why, why, why did the publishers choose the tiniest font available?
Sena Zimmer
Aug 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
I finally finished this book, and I know I would have liked it better if life had not got in the way of my enjoyment. I will put it on my list of read again books. Thank you to my dear book friend Lacey for actually sending this book to me. Your kindness is so appreciated.
Jun 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a very interesting book set in 19th century China, of which I have read very little-other than Shōgun.
It takes a look at the influences of the Western world on the traditional ways of life of the Japanese. The story is told through the eyes of a young American/French girl who moves to Japan when she is very young, and then tragically is an orphan with no friends or family to look after her, and she ends up a the assistant to a mistress whom she considers more of a sister than an employ
Shelley Fridell
Oct 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2017
The plot seemed disjointed at times but overall it was an engaging story. The Japanese use of honorifics instead of names made it hard to keep track of characters in some situations.
Jun 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lgbtiq
Charming, entertaining. I really liked this one. Partly because I love tea but also because it's a good book.
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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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