Teahouse Fire

The Teahouse Fire

by Ellis Avery

An audio file of this program is available in mp3 format; click to listen.

I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery.

I was thinking about the expression ‘this feels like home.’ What happens in our heads and hearts that gives us that feeling, where the last puzzle piece falls into place, your neck finally relaxes and your shoulders drop a bit, you know for a little while at least it’s going to be okay.

And what’s the opposite of that? Not knowing the language is an obvious tension maker. Looking different. The wrong clothes, worn the wrong way. The wrong kind of body or hair.  Being attracted to the wrong sex. People staring at you. Maybe there are those who can feel at home anywhere; I’m not one of them.

The Teahouse Fire is the story of Aurelia, an American girl who is orphaned and left homeless on her first night in Kyoto Japan in the late 19th century. At the time, Japan was still a shogunate, and women wore their teeth blackened and went in kimonos. And Aurelia, with her wild red hair and Western figure — and only a few words of Japanese — was as far from feeling at home as a girl can be.

Her fortunes change when she is adopted into the premiere tea ceremony family in Kyoto as a sort of pet for their teenaged daughter. Aurelia is bright and quickly learns the language, and also starts to learn about temae — the art of tea. The daughter of the family is determined to learn and teach tea herself, unheard of in that rigidly patriarchal culture. More amazingly, Yukako is based on a real woman who kicked down the doors of tradition in her tiny shoes and opened tea to women. How could Aurelia — ever the outsider — not love this brave young woman?

Aurelia also finds a great deal of peace in the rituals of tea, which makes sense. She knows at every second of the ceremony what is expected of her, what to say, how to turn, where to set the cup. In the teahouse the ground stops moving; she finally feels at home.

Ellis Avery spent years studying tea in Japan and the US. This is her first novel. If you’d like to learn more about temae, Ellis has lots of interesting links on her website, www.ellisavery.com. And for those who can’t resist pretty things,

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