Thursday, April 24, 2008

Book Review: The Teahouse Fire

I recently led a tea tasting for a book club, and the book for discussion was The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery. I was eager to read the book and share in the conversation. It was so rewarding! The book club experience was new to me. I greatly enjoyed the insights and perceptions the other women shared. It helped me deepen my understanding and assessment of the book.

The Teahouse Fire is about a girl (Aurelia) in the late 19th century. Her mother dies and Aurelia finds herself in Japan, serving as a translator for her missionary uncle. She is 9 years old. Her uncle gets drunk and takes advantage of her sexually, so she chooses to leave. The rest of the story chronicles Aurelia being taken in at a teahouse by Yukako, the tea master's daughter. Much of the story is devoted to the relationship between these two women.

The topic that interested me most in this book, from a tea perspective, was the boundary of gender related to the tea ceremony. While Yukako's father taught her the tea ceremony, she was prohibited from performing it publicly or teaching it herself. Yukako breaks with tradition on a number of occasions.

Sexual themes play heavily in the book, as well, from the Uncle's drunken lust to the fine line between sisterly love and romantic love. Ultimately, it is the outfall of a sexual encounter that drives Yukako to force Aurelia from the tea house compound.

The book club was in agreement that the story was interesting, but hard to follow. I concur. There were several times in which I had to re-read a section, or I wished for more context. Having said that, I did enjoy the book, particularly the descriptions of the tea utensils and the place of importance given to them.

If you have read the book, please share your opinion with us!
Also, if you'd like to watch a demonstration of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, go here. (This is not in a teahouse, but you'll get the idea. Pay particular attention to the utensils used - the bamboo scoop, whisk, etc.)

After the book discussion, I led a tea tasting for this group of women. We sampled a white, green and black tea and discussed tea's history and processing. It was very fun!

Our hostess pampered us with scones and fruit salad. Yumm!
It was a wonderful evening! Special thanks to the members of the book club for the warm welcome!


parTea lady said...

That sounds like it was quite an interesting evening. I am part of a reading group that reads one of Laura Childs "Tea Shop Mysteries" each month - just finished "The Silver Needle Murder". I found it to be a delightful light read. We also enjoy tea and scones during our meetings.

Steph said...

oOOOH, those tea shop mysteries are fun!!!!