cover image The Scent of Sake

The Scent of Sake

Rebecca Kai Dotlich, . . Avon, $13.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-06-168643-6

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.)