From #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa See, “one of those special writers capable of delivering both poetry and plot” (The New York Times Book Review), a moving novel about tradition, tea farming, and the bonds between mothers and daughters.
In their remote mountain village, Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. For the Akha people, ensconced in ritual and routine, life goes on as it has for generations—until a stranger appears at the village gate in a jeep, the first automobile any of the villagers has ever seen.
The stranger’s arrival marks the first entrance of the modern world in the lives of the Akha people. Slowly, Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, begins to reject the customs that shaped her early life. When she has a baby out of wedlock—conceived with a man her parents consider a poor choice—she rejects the tradition that would compel her to give the child over to be killed, and instead leaves her, wrapped in a blanket with a tea cake tucked in its folds, near an orphanage in a nearby city.
As Li-yan comes into herself, leaving her insular village for an education, a business, and city life, her daughter, Haley, is raised in California by loving adoptive parents. Despite her privileged childhood, Haley wonders about her origins. Across the ocean Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. Over the course of years, each searches for meaning in the study of Pu’er, the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for centuries.
A powerful story about circumstances, culture, and distance, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane paints an unforgettable portrait of a little known region and its people and celebrates the bond of family.
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an intimate look into a culture and a mindset that has existed for centuries, all while presentin
Stars: Overall 5 Narration 5 Story 5
Gently starting with an immersion into a small village in rural China, we meet Li-yan and her family, members of the Akha ethnic minority, a group removed from modern conveniences and wholly steeped in their own traditions, customs and beliefs. Early on, the influence of place, isolation, culture and work are the reveals: we learn of Li-yan and her own subtle difference from the rest of the village, her education and dreams for more beyond the limited life available to her family. She’s bolder and more excited by the new and strange than her family before her, and her willingness to follow her curiosity and dreams can be her downfall.
When she finds herself pregnant, Li-yan refuses the expected route, and heads away from her village to the nearest city – where she carefully swaddles the baby with a tea-cake in the folds of the blanket, and abandons the child. While the story hit heartbreaking at that moment, the efforts Li-yan made to present her child with the only thing she had, a tie to her own past with the hope for more and better for the child she wouldn’t raise. Adopted and raised in America, Haley has everything: modern conveniences, a family who desperately wanted her, education, opportunity and more. Yet, there is something missing, and the tea cake wrapped in her blanket just may hold the answer.
The story is one that is best listened to or read to be experienced: life in rural China, the traditions and solemnity with which tea is grown, harvested and drank, and the struggles between traditions, modernity and being the first to eschew the known for the different, the struggles faced and loneliness in being the only one familiar with both the old ways and the new opportunities, and trying to balance comfort with discomfort in all of the changes. Li-yan is nuanced and complex, Haley’s searches are understandable, and the gentle depth of the story develops and captivates much as steeping tea will strengthen with time and exposure.
Narration provided by Alexandria Allwine, Emily Walton, Erin Wilhelmi, Gabra Zackman, Jeremy Bobb, Joy Osmanski, Kimiko Glenn, and Ruthie Ann Miles: the complexity of different voices to present the multiple characters of the story fit well: adding depth and aural interest that laid the story out clearly, allowing the imagery and thoughts to develop, providing emotional nuance without overwhelming the words. With a reverence for the history, the traditions and even the presentation of the story, that sense we all have of needing to know who we are at the deepest parts of our being shines through clearly here: and provides an intimate look into a culture and a mindset that has existed for centuries, all while presenting a modern tale.
I received an AudioBook copy of the title from Simon & Schuster Audio for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.