Sunday, March 26, 2017

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

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

My Rating: * * * * * 5/5 stars

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.

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.

My Book Review: In The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Lisa See tells the story of Li-yan and her family who are part of the Akha people an ethnic minority in China.  Li-yan's family bases their lives around the tea leaf picking season and they live their lives according to the strict traditions and customs/taboos of the Akha people.  Some of their beliefs include, them believing that everything has a spirit and that everyone and everything is connected to each other so someone's good or bad actions affect the whole community as one not just that individual.  They live a lot of their traditions (some very harsh like if twins are born they are considered 'human rejects' and it is the duty of their Father to kill them by smothering them right after their born; they believe in doing this thinking they are protecting their community from bad spirits and from having bad luck because of the taboo that humans should not have 'litters' meaning more than one baby; they believe only animals should have multiple births.

This book had me from the very first chapter because Li-yan on her first trip with her Mother (who is the town's midwife) which she came on because she was her families only daughter and was expected to learn everything about delivering healthy babies from her Mother or Ama as she called her; because one day she would be expected to take her Mother's place.  On this outing with her Mother Li-yan who was still pretty young at the time sees her Mother carry out a ritual with the birth she's helping with that shocks her and she begins to doubt some of her  people's traditions and sees what her Mother has done as being very cruel (although it was considered a norm and her Mother was only doing what she would have been taught was the proper thing to do in the situation with which she was presented.)  After this experience (which I'm not telling the specifics of because it'd be a huge spoiler if you haven't read the book yet) Li-yan knows that she wants to pursue a different path and she decides that she will get there through getting a higher education than is usually allowed for girls in her village.

With the help of her teacher and after being denied many times by her Aba or as we would say her Father (who isn't happy at first because higher education is not valued for girls in their way of life and he is scared if she learns too much she will leave home when she is older and never return to her childhood home and the way in which they choose to live their lives.)  Li-yan finally gets her wish and goes on to the second level in their educational system; Li-yan seems to love learning but at sixteen she gets distracted from her studies by a boy...this will completely change the course of her life and those of her family and her village.  I do not want to go into specifics because its better to read them for yourself.  Through her twenties Li-yan has many painful and yet many life building experiences.  In many circumstances she is fighting to maintain the traditions she grew up with in a respectful manner while still being able to function in the modern world as a entrepreneur and business owner; as well as a wife and mother.  (Motherhood is especially difficult because of an event that changed Li-yan's life in her earlier years and the choice she was forced to make to protect her family, village, and her chance at making a life of her own.)

This book was different from the other novels that I've read by Lisa See; I've always enjoyed her books but this one in particular was very hard for me to put down.  I felt like I connected with the main character Li-yan in so many ways; emotionally, and making hard decisions as a young mother.  It really felt like to me that the author's heart was poured out in this book; I guess I'm saying it seemed more personal than other books of Lisa See that I've read.  I really enjoyed the inter-play between the characters; and learning about a new culture through the Akha's traditions and cultural values was something I really felt was accurately portrayed and something that I personally really enjoyed about this novel.  It also was a good length I didn't feel bogged down by it being huge and yet it didn't make me feel like I missed out on anything by it being too short.

If you like learning about other cultures and traditions and want great characters you can connect with I definitely heartily recommend this book.

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