Book: Scent of Sake
Author: Joyce Lebra
My short Review: Well researched, well written, absorbing plot, Enjoyable
My Rating: 4 Stars
Yet another 5 Star read? Yes! And I must tell you that I am definitely trying not to be very generous with my stars. But I can’t really help it if I get 3 fascinating books to read in a single month!
The Scent of Sake is set in Japan in the 1800s. The protagonist, Rie Omura, belongs to the Omura household – producers of the White Tiger Sake, one of Japan’s leading Sake brands. Through incidents in Rie’s life, we get to see how the reputation and the betterment of the Sake business take precedence over everything else in the house. Family decisions, even those of marriage, etc, are made based on the benefits to the business. Rie is passionate about the business as well and is ready to sacrifice her personal life and marry a man she is not attracted to solely for the sake of the business. When she realizes that her husband, Jihei, is not motivated and driven enough to help advance the business, she decides to take business matters in her own hands.
What seems like a simple enough decision today, was an unthinkable one in Japan in the 1800s. The Sake business is a male-dominated world and there is no place for a woman in that world – not even for a woman like Rie who is determined, driven and has the most amazing sense of timing when it comes to making business decisions. Rie is nevertheless determined to fight all odds (starting with her very disapproving husband) and enter the Sake world. She overhears conversations, tracks sales figures, and acquaints herself well with the working and then tries to sneak in suggestions here and there. Slowly, her stand in the family business becomes stronger and she is recognized for her business acumen.
To complement the success of her diversifying efforts, Rie starts taking family decisions to benefit the sake business just like how it was done in the past. Even without realizing, the sweet Rie slowly transforms into a hard, determined, business woman whose sole focus in life is business. Her employees fear her and her family members begin to detest her for her lack of concern for their feelings. But Rie is focused on only goal – making the Omura household the number one Sake producers of Japan – and she will not rest until she has achieved what she wanted.
“Scent of Sake” was a well written book. In spite of having so many characters and a lot of little parallel stories, Joyce Lebra manages to keep the attention on Rie. The character guide at the beginning of the book is very helpful since there are so many characters. When I started the book, I was a little apprehensive. I knew that Joyce Lebra is a professor of Japanese history by profession and I felt that the might have a lot of boring facts and history details to deal with. But I was completely mistaken. There was a lot of history in the book, but the details were so well woven into the story that it only made the book even more interesting.
I am very interesting in learning about different cultures around the world and this was a fantastic learning experience and a very enjoyable one at that.
I very highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in reading about Japanese culture or about strong willed women who do not hesitate defy norms. It is a very well written book and there’s not a single slow page in the entire book.
Thanks to Professor Joyce Libra for sending me a review copy of this book.