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The Scent of Sake Paperback – February 17, 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 366 pages
  • Publisher: Avon; 1 Original edition (February 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061662372
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061662379
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,400,953 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Historian and author Lebra (Women Against the Raj) makes her fiction debut with this historical novel concerning one of Japan's most ancient practices, sake brewing. Rie Omura, the daughter of a brewing merchant in 19th-century Kobe, decides at a young age to get into the business, even though women aren't even allowed inside the brewing house. Guilt over her brother's fatal accident drives Rie's fantasy to make her family's enterprise number one. Soon, however, the company's success falls to Rie's drunk, delinquent husband, the heir to another brewing house. Rie begins gently suggesting risky but profitable ventures to the men of the office, expanding shipments and wrangling with competitors (in sometimes excessive detail). The family grows alongside the business, as Rie reluctantly agrees to adopt her husband's illegitimate children (by geishas), hoping to build the great brewing dynasty her father always wanted. A paragon of determination and suppressed emotion, Rie can seem stagnant, especially amid a swirl of characters, but Lebra's focused, businesslike style and attention to detail make a fine match for her protofeminist heroine. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

I write about Japan, India and Asian women and have taught those subjects for
many years at the Unibversity of Colorado. I lived in Japan for ten years over a period of fifty years, in India for over three years and in Australia and Southeast Asia for over a year. These are the cultures where my historical fiction is set. I have also lived with families in Japan and India and was able to gain insights into the way people live and communicate in those cultures. This is what promoted me to write The Scent of Sake. I have also lived in Hawaii for over eighteen years and imbibed the background for Cane Fires, which is now an e-book novel.

I was raised in Honolulu and the Islands were imprinted firmly on my psyche from childhood.I have a Ph.D. in Japanese history from Harvard (first woman Ph.D. in the field in the US),and have an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Minnesota. I have written over a dozen books and have lectured widely around the world in England, Hong Kong, India, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, and Australia. President Nathan of Singapore launched my book Women Against the Raj; the Rani of Jhansi Regiment in 2009.

Please also visit my website where you will see a listing of my books and read more about me.

Customer Reviews

Every bad thing that happens is another person's fault, never her own.
I picked this book up as an impulse while at the book store and finally got around to reading it when the semester ended this summer.
Unfortunately, the execution was just so stiff and uninteresting, and the pace of the plot jumped around quite a bit.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By InsideADog on March 3, 2009
Format: Paperback
I picked this up on a whim at our local bookstore. The plot sounded intriguing and the subject was new to me. I learned a lot about the customs and history of Sake in 1800 Japan. Unfortunately I was very disappointed in the telling of the story. It lacked depth and continuity. Time would go by inconsistently and I had a hard time knowing how the author would get from point A to point B. Tragedy would strike and most often be resolved in a paragraph or two. Some things were left dangling and we never knew the outcome. No matter how poorly Rie treated someone, she seemed to never have to deal with the brutality of her decisions. Then there was the issue of the competing nemesis. We are lead to think that Yamaguchi was about the same generation as Rie's father at the beginning of the story. Rie lives to at least 88 and Yamaguchi lives to something just short of that time period which I believe would make him about 110-120. Where I realize that not all authors are James Clavell or Arthur Golden, I believe this story needs that much depth to be properly told.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Alan J. Taddiken on March 24, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
By good chance, I happened on Joyce Lebra's "The Scent of Sake". She has given us the gift of insight into the soul of a family and its culture. The setting in 19th Century Japan is beautifully evoked as we follow the life and growing awareness of the story's heroine, Rie.

The author weaves this tale of intersecting desires, enterprise, and cultural expectations with great subtlety and engaging side plots--worthy of a Jane Austen. Rie's story is timeless in the sense of the obstacles she meets and manages to overcome. But Lebra is beyond the mere entertainment of Romance in her telling: she manages the story with such skill that it is touching but
always realistic, exotically descriptive without the ennui of detail. Most of all, Scent of Sake is fun to read--a cross-cultural treat for the mind and heart.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jean Kelso on May 7, 2009
Format: Paperback
This book is about a family dynasty, Japanese style. The Omura family have been sake brewers for generations. Women are not allowed into the brewery for fear their presence will sour the sake. Sole heir, young Rie is forced to turn over the business to the philanderer she has been forced to marry and whose children by other women she is expected to raise. But Rie is not ready to give up the fight and follow her mother's advice to "kill the self" in order to bear the demands the strict Japanese society places on a woman. The book presented tidbits regarding the rules of family and the sake brewing industry in Japan. It follows Rie and her family in an evolving world, such as the impact of the Europeans. If you enjoy intergenerational books about families, you will find this one interesting.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on February 21, 2009
Format: Paperback
In Kobe when her two year old brother Toichi died because she failed to watch him closely, Rie is filled with guilt. A few weeks later, her father Kinzaemon IX informs the grieving Rie that she is the "future of the Omura House". Her interpretation of his simple statement defies societal beliefs. Instead of marrying the next sake brew master, as a woman entering a brewery sours the products, she decides she must save the House of Ohura. She detests her mother's adage that a female must always live for the male by "killing the self".

Her parents arrange her marriage to Johei in order for them to produce the next heir. However, she realizes her husband is an incompetent womanizer who will destroy the House of Ohura if left in charge. Rie vows their product White Tiger will be number one sake in Japan, which means defying the demands of her womanizing spouse to raise his children (with a geisha) and by tradition he take charge of the House of Ohura. Over the years she proves a superior business person and her diverse ideas make the House of Ohura strong; her father gives the official brewery seal to her not Johei.

This late nineteenth century Japanese tale focuses on the venerable sake brewing industry through four generations of a family. Rie is the link between her parents, her children and grandchildren as she holds the interesting story line together. What is fascinatingly is how she changes from warm and caring to cold and dominating towards family members. Only the sake eventually receives her warmth. Genre fans will appreciate this deep historical tale that provides insight into late nineteenth century Japanese culture and tradition through the eyes of someone who defies the norm.

Harriet Klausner
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A. Kagan on March 22, 2009
Format: Paperback
Professor Joyce Lebra has written an historical novel that combines
both a sensibility of Japanese traditional memoirs and American manners.

Ms. Lebra is one of those cross-cultural scholars who is equally
comfortable in America and Japan. Having received her education at the
University of Minnesota and Harvard/Radcliffe, she was the first
American woman Ph.D in the discipline of Japanese History. . She has
won many awards and has a large corpus of scholarly writings.

Her affinity with Japanese culture is a result of living as a child in
Honolulu and living in Japan for a total of ten years.

The Scent of Sake is her first historical romance. It is no coincidence
that her study of an 19th century female Japanese sake merchant echoes
the approach of the famous 10th century Jdapanese female writer,
Murasaki Shikibu. Professor Lebra is well aware of the history of
Japanese literature and culture. During the Heian Period (973-1025
C.E.), women writers described the psychological conditions of women and
their roles in society. These biographies introduced females who were
savvy about their condition and who planned ways to promote their own
power or identities.

In later times, the novels about women were tragic: they often committed
suicide alone or with their lover. The stories were filled with a
melancholy about the futility of happiness and the swift passage of time
into old age and loneliness.

Rie, the heroine of this romance receives the sour advice from her
mother upon the occasion of an arranged marriage that is bound to be
unhappy: "Personal feelings have so little to do with marriage .. And
you must try to be a good wife, Rie.
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