Summary: 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.
Review: Someone once asked after watching Jeopardy with me why do I know such random things. My answer was that I loved to read. More than that, I love reading and learning new things, so Lisa See's latest was right on time. Coffee is too strong for my palate, but I love good tea. After reading The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, I know that what I'm drinking these days doesn't even begin to compare with what's found in the mountains of China.
I typically appreciate the care See takes with her major and minor characters, their surroundings and their story lines. I loved the way she delved into Li-yan's story from her time in the remote mountains to her adventure to the big city. Her rise and fall are written about in great detail so I found it easy to invest in her character.
On the other side of the coin was Haley, the daughter Li-yan gave up for adoption. I never really got into her story and found it to be a bit of a distraction from what I considered the real story, Li-yan's journey. Perhaps it was her Americanized life, but it never quite clicked for me.
Regardless, there is much to be learned from all of Lisa See's books and The Tea Girl is no exception. It's an engrossing story that had me sucked in from the beginning and stayed with me well after I finished reading it. Fans and newcomers to See's writing will certainly enjoy it.
Published: March 2017
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher; opinions are my own.
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