The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Teahouse Fire, by Ellis Avery

A few weeks ago, I wrote about reading history books, noting that novels can help provide a more complete picture of history, beyond the standard account of politics and wars. The Teahouse Fire is a case in point.

I don’t feel this book worked as a novel. To be blunt, I found it boring. Nothing drove the story forward, to the point that I can’t identify a plot. “Passage of time” isn’t a plot, even when every 50 pages or so we’re reminded that the protagonist (Aurelia/Urako) misses a lover from her past. There is mild to moderate tension among certain characters, but even that is tepid most of the time. Other than that, a few things happen, but there’s no sense of movement. Character development was similar, in that I had a sense of who these people were, but there wasn’t much depth to most of them. I hate giving up on a book, but after about 200 pages I decided to scan the rest of this one.

However … in my entry on reading history, I recalled that one of my college history professors had his students read novels. What I didn’t say was that this was a professor of Japanese history. So as I set The Teahouse Fire aside, I had to ask myself if I would assign this book to a Japanese history class. More importantly, if I undertook a project to uncover novels that dealt with the Meiji Restoration, how many would I find that had been written in English, or translated?

A quick online search didn’t produce that many candidates. And although The Teahouse Fire didn’t work for me as a novel, I do think Avery did outstanding research. I especially like the way she showed her characters reacting to the tremendous political and cultural upheaval that came with the Meiji Restoration. Early in the book, Urako, the protagonist, attaches herself to a family whose business it is to teach the tea ceremony. (I took lessons in the tea ceremony, along with Japanese flower arranging, on the side during my sophomore year in college.) With the Meiji Restoration, this family business lost its purpose, only to generate new interest among the increasing numbers of Westerners allowed into the country. It’s highly unlikely this perspective would show up in a standard history text, so on that basis alone I would definitely assign The Teahouse Fire to a Japanese history class.

So the book works for me on one level, though probably not the way the author intended. As for animal issues, by time I started scanning, I had only encountered a few. There’s a spooked horse and some bunnies painted with vegetable dye to appear as if they’re calico, but nothing beyond that. So this book is SAFE for animal lovers.


October 16, 2008 - Posted by | Book Reviews, history, literature | , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: