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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Lisa See’s novel about one woman’s journey from southern China’s mountains to the tony Los Angeles suburbs opens with an aphorism: “No coincidence, no story.” As a child, Li-yan lives among the Akha, picking tea with her family in the countryside. When her life turns upside-down, she heads to the city, carrying her home village’s customs while gathering her heart’s shattered pieces. Full of luminous prose and surprising plot twists that render its opening line prophetic, See’s depiction of loss, love, and tea is spirited and inspiring.
Li-Yan is the youngest daughter of an Ahka family near Nannuo Mountain in China in 1949. She tries to follow Ahka law, the rules set forth by the beliefs of this ethnic minority, but at every turn she seems to find herself doing the opposite: An Ahka girl must obey and learn from her mother, but Li-Yan studies hard at a modern school. Although an Ahka girl should not speak to men, when foreigners arrive from Hong Kong in search of a renowned, aged tea called Pu'er, Li-Yan is the only one who can translate. If an Ahka girl gets pregnant, she must marry the boy, but when Li-Yan gives birth, the father is gone. And, according to Ahka law, a child born outside of marriage must be killed. But Li-Yan cannot bring herself to do it. Instead, she leaves her daughter at the doorstep of an orphanage. While Li-Yan matures into a successful tea master, the daughter, Haley, is adopted into a white American family in Los Angeles, and her existence is revealed in sporadic letters, school reports, and, later, emails. These sections capture both Haley's desire to fully integrate into her adopted family and her curiosity and heartache about her mother and the only clue she left behind: a tea cake. With vivid and precise details about tea and life in rural China, Li-Yan's gripping journey to find her daughter comes alive.
I loved this book
I learned a lot, and it wasn’t at all what I expected. 4 stars because I feel robbed of an epilogue, a truly truly amazing book.
I really enjoyed this thoroughly researched story. The writing was very well-structured and the storyline flawless. So it was a great read for me. That being said, it felt a bit formulaic and expository. Nothing wrong with that, it just didn’t feel like a literary journey, more like a love story on several levels (parent-child, romantic partner), stitching together facts and situations surrounding Chinese adoptees, and those of the tea world. I appreciated the neatly tied threads of all the individual story lines, but found all that the coincidences a bit fairytale-ish.
Still liked it very much.
Took me a minute
I felt like it took me a bit to get into this book. It didn’t capture me right away but boy did it get better and better. The Ending was so unexpected 💕