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  • Aug 22, 2014
  • Updated: 12:56pm

The Teahouse Fire

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 December, 2007, 12:00am

The Teahouse Fire

by Ellis Avery

Vintage, HK$132

The Japanese tea ceremony allows participants to focus their attention on beauty, among other things. For student Ellis Avery it also inspired her excellent debut novel, The Teahouse Fire, in which one of her main characters, Yukako Shin, is based on Yukako Sen, the woman who changed the destiny of chado ('the way of tea') by introducing its study to females. Set in 19th-century Japan, when the country was opening to the west, the story revolves around young Aurelia, who leaves her dying mother in New York and travels to Kyoto with her missionary uncle. He's no good Christian though, and she flees his depraved clutches to take refuge in a teahouse. There, Shin, the daughter of a tea master, accepts Aurelia as her younger sister and introduces her to a tradition-steeped lifestyle ruled by aesthetics. The story of the foreigner's acculturisation is told in lockstep with Japan's fraught and rapid modernisation. Avery deserves a deep bow for capturing the revolutionary period and captivating readers with her story of Aurelia, who falls in love with Shin and helps save her family from ruin. Japanophiles who baulk at lost-Japan-type narratives will appreciate that storytelling takes precedence over nostalgia.

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