'When I was nine, in the city now called Kyoto, I changed my fate...
What I asked for? Any life but this one.'
When Aurelia flees the fire that kills her missionary uncle and leaves her orphaned and alone in nineteenth-century Japan, she has no idea how quickly her wish will be answered. Knowing only a few words of Japanese she hides in a tea house and is adopted by the family who own it: gradually falling in love with both the tea ceremony and with her young mistress, Yukako.
As Aurelia grows up she devotes herself to the family and its failing fortunes in the face of civil war and western intervention, and to Yukako's love affairs and subsequent marriage. But her feelings for her mistress are never reciprocated and as tensions mount in the household Aurelia begins to realise that to the world around her she will never be anything but an outsider.
A lushly detailed, spellbinding story, The Teahouse Fire is an unforgettable debut.
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The tea ceremony becomes a tiny stage on which grand passions are enacted... Avery captures all this with the emotional poise befitting her characters, and great sensual pleasure. Her novel is a rather beautiful thing: all the more so for emulating the values of another world - Financial Times
Should appeal to fans of Kazuo Ishiguro's Remains of the Day - Scotland on Sunday
In Ellis Avery's The Teahouse Fire, aesthetic rules vie with politics, sex and human feeling. Avery has whipped up a heady brew of sex and human feeling -
Vivid and engrossing... Although this is a historical novel as well as a coming-of-age book, the depth of Avery's exploration of her period and her characters lets her soar above the limitations of both genres...[it is] a novel that, like the tea ceremony itself, provides true pleasure to the intellect and all thesenses - Los Angeles Times
Avery's writing is saturated with color and detail; she manages to make 19th-century Japan both accessible and exotic - Boston Globe
A rich story, to be savoured for its detail rather than its plot - Observer
The Teahouse Fire is a novel as exquisitely intricate and carefully presented as the tea ceremonies it depicts. It is a masterful act, and a most captivating portrait of a changing society. A book to savour -
With meticulous detail and exquisite sensuality, Avery invites us into a lost world on the brink of transformation. The Teahouse Fire is an absolute spellbinder -
Fans of historical fiction, as well as those with an appetite for all things Japanese, should consider Ellis Avery's The Teahouse Fire... This brims with intricate details about Japanese culture: the ways of the samurai, the different castes, the role of women - USA Today
Ellis Avery studied the Japanese tea ceremony for five years in New York and Kyoto, and now teaches Creative Writing at Columbia University. Her work has appeared in The Village Voice, Kyoto Journal, LIT and Pacific Reader and has been performed at New York's Expanded Arts Theatre. She lives in New York City.