The Scent of Sake
By Joyce Lebra
Avon; 366 pages; $13.99
Raised in Honolulu as a child, author and Asia-Pacific authority Joyce Lebra brings Japan to life in her novel “The Scent of Sake,” a sweeping saga set throughout changing times at the advent of the Meiji Era. The novel’s plot and setting are anchored to the House of Omura, a top sake-brewing dynasty in Koba, and centers on Rie, the only daughter.
Though Lebra’s prose is initially repetitive and awkward, and the narrator often ineffectively invades other characters’ perspectives or abruptly shifts time and topics, once the book effectively settles into Rie’s character and perspective the novel flows.
As Rie grows up, navigating her family’s business alongside rules of marriage and succession, the history and intricacies of the sake brewing culture captivate and delight. Rie is consistently a courageous, stubborn, tenacious protagonist one can’t resist following to the end, and Lebra’s fresh look at a time-honored Japanese tradition offers welcome insight as well as entertainment.