Title/Author: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
In a nutshell:
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.
We follow the life of Li-yan, a member of the Akha hill tribe, who grew up picking tea leaves with her family in a hut made of bamboo stilts, with no electricity and running water. Li-yan’s path had been set – to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a midwife.
But knowing there’s more to life than those that have been set for her in her village, she was determined to intervene Fate by getting an education and change her future. But she fell in love and had a baby girl outside of wedlock with a man her family disapproves. Going against her Akha culture and beliefs, she let her daughter live and took her to an adoption centre, hoping to give her a second chance at life. Hence began Li-yan’s new life and her daughter’s in a land away from hers.
This book opened my eyes to the Akha hill tribe in China whose way of life is tied to the land, relying on their ruma – the spirit priest, and nima the shaman for their rituals and blessings; their wedding traditions that stretch for weeks, the 4-day Swing Festival which they build a new spirit gate each year, and some really fascinating information about the history of tea and tea-making in China.
This novel centers around culture and tradition, motherhood, mother-daughter relationships, friendships, and international adoption; leaving me to question, what would I do with my daughter if I were Li-yan? How far will I let traditional beliefs and rituals take over my life, even those that are inhumane or dated? And will I be able to forge new friendships again after being betrayed by the only friend I’ve ever known? How will I feel if I were the daughter who knows nothing about my mother, except that she has left me in an adoption home? And how will I adapt into a family who looks nothing like me but has generously taken me in and treated me as their own?
This is such a beautifully written book with many heartbreaks in between. Even though I knew what was to be expected at the end and told myself not let Lisa See get me all teary again, that was exactly what happened. I bawled at the end. Like a baby.
My favorite quote from the book? No coincidence, no story.
What can I say. Another emotional read from one of my beloved authors, this one transports you right to the remote mountains of China. She’s one of the very few authors who can weave a tale covering a wide range of issues, yet at the same time tug you at your heartstrings. I loved this as much as her latest book, The Island of Sea Women.
I highly recommend this book, especially if you’re a Lisa See fan!
Have you read this book? Did you enjoy it? If you haven’t do you intend to read it? Please share with me your thoughts!