7 February 2017

Review #585: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“If you are cold, tea will warm you;
if you are too heated, it will cool you;
If you are depressed, it will cheer you;
If you are excited, it will calm you.”

----William Ewart Gladstone

Lisa See, a Chinese-American NY Times Bestselling author, crafts an unique and heart-touching story, called The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane in which the author introduces her readers yet with another ethnic minority group of China, called the Akha, whose religion lies in their beliefs, taboos and superstitions chalked out by old shamans and ancient relics, and among this group of people, there lies a particular tea-growing family, the youngest daughter of that family, break frees from those old beliefs and maps her own future as a tea seller, but pain always manages to find a way to hurt her.


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.

Li-Yan is the only daughter and the youngest child of a Chinese family who belong to an ethnic minority race called, the Akha. These particular race of people believe in the ancient rituals, sacrifices and practices set upon by their leaders and the rules made by the old shamans or passed down by their ancestors, also they refuse to or even oppose to any kind of reform that is happening in China and among other communities of people. Li-Yan's story begins at a very early age when a heart shattering event changes her life forever and so her perspective of her own tribe. But when she too becomes a victim to one of her tribe's myth and taboo by becoming pregnant with a child before her marriage to her lover, she alongside her mother's support, makes sure that her newly born daughter is not killed by anybody and that she gets a shelter far away from her own clan. Eventually, Li-Yan finds happiness but that too for a brief while as she soon becomes a widow and is forced to leave her land to pursue higher education and to make something out of so much wild tea growing around her village. Little did Lin-Yan knew that the daughter, whom she gave up and whom her heart still yearns for after so many years, would seek for the truth behind their family's secrets about just like her. Is there a chance of reunion between the mother and daughter who both are looking for the same thing in their respective lives?

See, being a personal favorite author of mine and the only brilliant writer of current times whose stories carry that authentic charm of the China and its races, I could not pass up an opportunity to get my hands on an ARC of this book. And yet once again, See creates miracle with her new book that explores not only the lost threads of the primary relationship of nature, that is a mother-daughter relationship but also the author explores a lesser known Chinese minor race and their beliefs, faith and culture and about the origin of herbal tea and the history of tea in China. Being of Chinese origin, See crafts this novel about Chinese culture and family structure with ease and vividness.

The writing style is fantastic, layered with that authentic and oriental tone thus creating an unique and extremely Chinese mood for the readers. The prose is articulate and flawless, that will keep the readers engaged to the core of the story line. As for me, what really kept me on the edge was Lin-Yan and Haley's struggle to find one another and the tension around this challenge. The pacing of the book is swift like a silent brook yet flows with some unpredictable turns that will sway the readers into its own tune, leaving them anticipative till the very end.

The timeline that the author drew in their plot is evocative and striking enough to take us back in time. In short, the story will feel like a time capsule taking straight back to China during the Cultural Revolution, One Child policy and the Great Leap era. While reading the book, one fact will become obvious the readers that the author has devoted her mind and soul into the research as she brings alive an ethnic minority Chinese tribe thoroughly with immense depth that the readers are bound to get easily adapted into this tribe's culture. And surprisingly she pens everything with so much ease and emotions that not the story will move its readers but will enlighten the souls of the readers with such a rare knowledge that is easy to comprehend with. The backdrop of the story line too is vividly painted as the author portrays China through its glory, constant developments and downfalls in both socio-political and cultural domains.

The characters reflect the grace, charm and the pain of their time period very distinctly and the author molded each character very precisely from one another with enough depth, pain, emotions and flaws. The author depicts the characters with honesty and realism and they all hold a power to evoke a sense of longing and sympathy into the readers' hearts. The main character, Lin-Yan is a tribal girl, but right from a very tender age, her mind developed freely with education and away from the prejudices set upon be her tribe. Lin-Yan fights for the truth and walks on a path to righteousness, but she suffers and sacrifices a lot in that respect, yet her brave heart and her hope to become a renowned tea-seller makes her one hell of a kick-ass female heroine with emotions that the readers will find it easy to contemplate with. The secondary as well as the supporting characters are also quite well etched out from the raw.

In a nutshell, this compelling family-driven drama is highly absorbing that narrates a story of a mother-daughter relationships, of an unknown tribe and its challenges and of two tea-loving women, who struggles to make a difference despite of their oriental backgrounds, one away from her roots, and the other searching for her seeds.

Verdict: A spectacular and intriguing tale of lost love between a mother and a daughter that is best enjoyed over a cup of hot tea!

Courtesy: Many, many thanks to the author Lisa See, for providing me with a copy of her book, in return for an honest review.

Author Info:
Lisa See is a Chinese-American author. Her books include Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005), Dragon Bones, and On Gold Mountain. She was named the 2001 National Woman of the Year, by the Organization of Chinese American Women. She lives in Los Angeles.
Visit her here

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