Monday, March 6, 2017

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

Title: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
Author: Lisa See
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: March 21, 2017
Pages: 384
Source/format: e-ARC from publisher

Rating: ☆☆☆ 

Synopsis (from goodreads.com):

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.


M Y  T H O U G H T S

Li-Yan lives in the Spring Well Village, one of the many villages of the Akha people. Akha people, are one of the many ethnic tribes of people who live in the Yunnan province of China. Li-Yan falls in love with classmate Sen-pa from the Shelter Shadow Village but their parents do not approve of the marriage. Li-Yan finds out she is pregnant with his child. Because it's taboo to have a child unmarried, Li-Yan end up abandoning her daughter at an orphanage with a tea cake instead of following tradition to kill the child. Her daughter, Haley, ends up being adopted by an American couple in California. Both Li-Yan and Haley is curious about each other and they hope to find answers about each other.

A-ma can be very strict about things in the family but because Li-Yan is her only daughter, she tries to help Li-Yan during the pregnancy and conceal it from the family since its taboo to be pregnant when unmarried. Li-Yan had to give up her dream to past an exam to go to college but she wanted to make sure can provide a good life for her child. Her sacrifice for many things has helped her daughter obtain a better life.

Although her life is a constant struggle, Li-Yan is able to relocate away from her Akha home to a trade school in Kunming to start off with a clean slate. The mother and daughter relationships are vital in the novel just like how the special ancient tea grove is passed down the family from mother to daughter. The women in The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane are strong women; they are resilient.

Lisa See's The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is beautifully written and it's compelling. Her narration is that of a well versed storyteller. She educates readers about the traditions and culture of the Ahka people. I found it very interesting to learn more about the Ahka people and See did her research well. The art of tea is explained exquistely throughout the book. I am a huge tea lover so I found it fascinating to read. Cultivating tea to brewing tea is very complex and tea aficionados will enjoy reading about the history of tea, especially of Pu'er. Through tea Li-Yan is connected to her family roots and most importantly to her daughter. The yellow threads in the tea cakes bring the family together.

The novel is mostly in first person through Li-Yan's perspective. See starts the novel off with Li-Yan being about 10 and ends the novel when Li-Yan is in her mid to late 30s. Through letters and support group dialogue, readers peer into Haley's life and how she is doing. Although heartbreaking at times, See has captured the spirit of what it means to be a daughter and a mother. While Li-Yan is separated from her daughter, she yearns for her every day. Haley always thinks about her birth mother and the tea cake.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is a story about tradition, culture, family, love, loss, sacrifice, perseverance, new beginnings and origins. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is by far my favorite novel by See and it makes a wonderful reading companion to Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I highly recommend this novel.

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