*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Title: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
Author: Lisa See
Publication Date: March 21, 2017
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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. 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.
I am a HUGE Lisa See fan. I own every single one of her books and I’ve always been thrilled to read her novels as they’re released. So, of course I was thrilled to receive a copy of her newest novel, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. See doesn’t disappoint in this book. She brings us the tale of the Akha people, an ethnic minority in China, a people stilled in time, trapped from the advances of the outside world. Their customs and lifestyle are preserved by their remote location. It is here that Li-yan comes of age, experiencing life as the only daughter in her family, growing into womanhood. She has a daughter whom she gives up to an orphanage to save her from being killed (we also get a taste of her daughter’s story as the novel progresses). She is given the opportunity to receive education for the advancement of the town. This opportunity gives her freedom, but that freedom comes with a price. She must venture to an unknown world, giving up everything she knows to work as hard as she can. Although both she and the town, in time, profit from her hard work, she also is considered an outsider to many of her townsfolk.
I thought this book was absolutely breathtaking. See creates a vivid world full of Ahka customs and traditions, described in a beautiful and accessible way, even if they are not something that modern readers have ever experienced. See provides the reader with a peak into a town as it embraces (or is transformed by) the advanced outside world. And she shares the devastation of China’s one-child policy through the Chinese orphans who are adopted into Western families. I thought that she effectively conveys the struggles between cultures, between adoptive parents and their children, between ethnic minorities and the majority within China. This is a book not only of family and matriarchal love, but also of conflicts across the board.
I did feel as though the ending was quite abrupt and would have really loved to see another 50-100 pages at the end, just to provide a little bit more resolution. Perhaps some will enjoy that See leaves it up to the reader to imagine what comes next, but for me, after such a full, rich, lovely story, the ending seemed underdeveloped. Otherwise, I have only good things to say about See’s latest novel. Her writing grows in strength with every book and I’m more and more excited to see what she comes out with next. I definitely recommend this one!