THE TEAHOUSE FIRE
Richly descriptive and
full of fascinating historical detail, Avery's novel highlights the westernization of late 19th-century Japan with well-researched
facts that capture the details of Japan's famous teahouses. Aurelia is a truly admirable character.
Nine-year-old Aurelia is orphaned when she moves from New York to Japan with her uncle, and she finds herself alone after a fire. She is taken in by Yukako, the daughter of a tea master in Kyoto. As she works for Yukako, Aurelia learns the specific steps required in Japan's ceremonial teas and explores the various facets of her own sexuality.
The novel spans almost 30 years, showcasing the changes in Japanese culture during that time. The crux of the book is Aurelia's ever-changing relationship with Yukako. As she stays with Yukako, she changes from a young girl into a mature woman who eventually takes over the management of the teahouse. (Riverhead, Jan., 400 pp., $24.95)