The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

by Lisa See

Overview: A thrilling new novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa See explores the lives of a Chinese mother and her daughter who has been adopted by an American couple. Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. There is ritual and routine, and it has been ever thus for generations. Then one day a jeep appears at the village gate—the first automobile any of them have seen—and a stranger arrives.

In this remote Yunnan village, the stranger finds the rare tea he has been seeking and a reticent Akha people. In her biggest seller, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, See introduced the Yao people to her readers. Here she shares the customs of another Chinese ethnic minority, the Akha, whose world will soon change. Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, translates for the stranger and is among the first to reject the rules that have shaped her existence. When she has a baby outside of wedlock, rather than stand by tradition, she wraps her daughter in a blanket, with a tea cake hidden in her swaddling, and abandons her in the nearest city.

After mother and daughter have gone their separate ways, Li-yan slowly emerges from the security and insularity of her village to encounter modern life while Haley grows up a privileged and well-loved California girl. Despite Haley’s happy home life, she wonders about her origins; and Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. They both search for and find answers in the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for generations. A powerful story about a family, separated by circumstances, culture, and distance, Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane paints an unforgettable portrait of a little known region and its people and celebrates the bond that connects mothers and daughters.

Debbie Weiss (07/29/17): I really enjoyed this latest book from Lisa See. I had seen her speak at the Forsyth Library a few years ago and was extremely impressed with her intelligence and warm personality.

Deanna has given an excellent synopsis of the book in her review. For me, while learning all about tea was illuminating, I was most interested in the storyline regarding overseas adoption. Li-yan, the main character of the novel, brought her baby to an orphanage and the baby girl was eventually adopted by a California couple who named the baby Haley. We follow both Li-yan and Haley's lives for many years. While Li-yan yearns for her missing daughter, Haley tries to figure out where she fits in the world. Is she American? Is she Chinese? Why did her parents give her up? Are they now looking for her? She loves her parents who adopted her, but she feels like a piece of who she is is missing. I am sure that many adoptees have these mixed emotions and I think that while most people will really enjoy this book, I think that it will have special meaning for those that have experienced adoptions in their lives.
Rating: ****+

Deanna Boe (07/29/17): Lisa See’s writing is extremely interesting simply because it is so well researched and deals with topics that we normally know little about. This one in particular was fascinating having lived in Asia where I became somewhat acquainted with the hill tribes that lived in Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. In this particular case it is about the hill tribe of Akha who were found in a very isolated area of China; to sustain themselves they grew tea.

The storyline takes place shortly after the Cultural Revolution in China and towards the end of Mao’s reign. The Akha are a small minority tribe compared to the majority of the people in China who are Han. The Akha have survived over the centuries by producing a unique tea from very old tea trees. The Akha people’s lives are not easy, but with little connection to the outside world they cling to their superstitious ways. For instance, if a woman gives birth to twins they had to be immediately put to death since they were considered evil or “rejects.” The main character is Li–yan. She has a difficult time accepting this tradition even though her Mother is one of the tribe’s healers or medicine person. Fortunately, for Li–yan, she came into contact with an educated man who had been sent to the mountains during the Cultural Revolution, he was her teacher. He realized she had great potential and persuaded Li-yan and her family to allow her to continue her education elsewhere.

Probably one of the more interesting customs the tribe practiced was the encouragement of sexual experimentation before they married. The only requirement was that they not get pregnant, but if they did they had to marry immediately. Li-yan fell in love and carried out this custom with the young man she fell in love with from a near-by village. After he left to go to Thailand to try and earn enough money for them to marry Li-yan discovered she was pregnant. She was able to hide it until almost the end when her Mother helped her deliver the baby away from everyone else and then take the baby girl to an orphanage in the nearest large community down the mountain. This was her first introduction to life outside of her village.

It is interesting to read about the customs and lives of the “hill people.” How tea is grown and what a difference the “opening” of their village to outsiders had on them. The novel is filled with new information most of us do not know, but how authentic could all of the storyline really be? Li-yan’s starting her own tea business, meeting and marrying a rich Chinese man which leads to their living in the United States, all connected to Li-yan’s daughter (who was adopted by Americans) and the eventual reunification of them. In short, Lisa See has done extensive research about the growing of tea, the culture of the hill tribes, overseas adoptions, but one has to accept this for what it is, a fascinating study of various human traditions. Enjoy.
Rating: ****+

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