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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Scent of Sake - Joyce Lebra

Harper Collins has a great program called First Look where a person can sign up, check out their upcoming books, and request to read and review one. I've requested a few books but I was finally picked to read and review The Scent of Sake by Joyce Lebra.

First of all, it's historical fiction (which I love). Second, the title is just awesome. And third, my husband and I love to go out for sushi and sake. Mmm.

The book takes place in the mid-1800's Japan and follows the life of Rie Omura, the daughter of the owner of a large sake brewing company called the White Tiger. After a tragic accident involving her young brother, Rie becomes the sole heir of the company. Instead of marrying out, her husband comes to live with the family and trains to take over the White Tiger. But it's an arranged marriage and the two never hit it off. On top of that, her husband doesn't have the business sense that Rie has. And Rie is one smart business lady. But it's 1800's Japan and women aren't supposed to be heads of companies. So Rie maneuvers and manages the house and essentially becomes the main decision maker.

Obviously this creates problems within the family. Her husband feels alienated and finds comfort with geishas. Rie has problems conceiving an heir so her husband's children by geishas are adopted into the family. (Seriously, it starts sounding like a Jerry Springer show with tons of children all by different mothers and fathers.) But through Rie's management, the White Tiger rises as a top sake brewer in the country.

OK. So that's sort of a convoluted synopsis. There are tons of things I loved about the book. I loved that it showed a different segment of Japanese society that I have not read about. It focuses on the wives and families instead of the glamorous geishas. And it portrays the business aspects of sake brewing which I loved reading about. And inserted here and there are snippets of history encroaching the Omura family. The fall of the shoguns and samurai. The arrival of European outsiders on steam ships. The technological and cultural changes which inevitably changes Japanese life forever. And I loved Rie's tenacity to put everything on the line for the benefit of the Omura house and company.

But sometimes I just couldn't relate to Rie. Sometimes I understood why her family had problems because she was a little too business-like, strong-willed, and well, bossy. And there were so many characters in the family I sometimes had to stop and refer to the front page where there was a character list (very helpful).

In the end, it's a book I could have loved. It's a good read and I'd recommend it, but I wanted to dig a little deeper into the characters and love them a bit more.

Thank you to Harper Collins for sending me the book to review. The book will be available February 17, 2009.

Also Reviewed by:


  1. This sounds really interesting, I'll have to keep my eyes open.

  2. I enjoyed this book, too, and I agree about not always liking the character of Rie. I linked to your review on mine, which is here.

    Diary of an Eccentric


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