The Teahouse Fire


In New York in 1865, little Aurelia Corneille, the illegitimate child of a French maid, is orphaned. Her uncle Charles is a priest whom she has never liked, but when he accepts a post in Japan, Aurelia has no choice but to go with him. Soon after their arrival, her uncle finds sexual gratification with Aurelia on his lap, and she flees his presence. She wanders into a Japanese shrine, where she makes a wish for a better life. Afterward she returns home only to find her house in flames and her uncle presumed to have perished inside. Devastated and completely alone in the world, Aurelia seeks shelter in a Japanese teahouse. A young woman named Yukako Shin, daughter of Japan’s leading tea master and a descendant of Rikyu, the founder of the tea ceremony, discovers her and takes her to be her maid.

Japan in the late 19th century was ruled by Emperor Meiji. It was a time of upheaval, as the West began to influence Japanese culture; a time when the Samurai no longer fought, and men and women began to adopt Western fashion. Temae, the sacred tea ceremony traditionally performed by specially chosen men who were trained by expert tea masters, was no longer held in reverence as it had been in the past. Aurelia and Yukako are forced to adapt both the temae and their own lives in this passionate story of betrayal and unrequited love set in a world of tumultuous change and uncertainty. The book is beautifully written in a gentle, enthralling prose that accurately depicts a way of life that faded far too easily into the past.

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