My introduction to Lisa See, and I couldn’t be happier with this choice. Brew a large pot of tea (my favorite is Silver Needles – not from the story but….) and read my review of
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
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.
Stars: Overall 5 Narration 5 Story 5
Title: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
Author: Lisa See
Genre: Chinese, Contemporary Fiction - Adult, Family Saga, Historic Elements, Literary Fiction /Family Saga
Narrator: Alexandra Allwine, Emily Walton, Erin Wilhelmi, Gabra Zackman, Jeremy Bobb, Joy Osmanski, Kimiko Glenn, Ruthie Ann Miles
Published by: Scribner, Simon & Schuster Audio
Published on: 21 March, 2017
Source: Simon and Schuster Audio
Audio Length: 14 Hours: 7 minutes
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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.
A copy of this title was provided via Simon and Schuster Audio for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.