In their remote mountain village, Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. For the Akha people, ensconced in ritual and routine, life goes on as it has for generations—until a stranger appears at the village gate in a jeep, the first automobile any of the villagers has ever seen.
The stranger’s arrival marks the first entrance of the modern world in the lives of the Akha people. Slowly, Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, begins to reject the customs that shaped her early life. When she has a baby out of wedlock—conceived with a man her parents consider a bad match—she rejects the tradition that would compel her to give the child over to be killed, and instead leaves her, wrapped in a blanket with a tea cake tucked in its folds, near an orphanage in a nearby city.
As Li-yan comes into herself, leaving her insular village for an education, a business, and city life, her daughter, Haley, is raised in California by loving adoptive parents. Despite her privileged childhood, Haley wonders about her origins, and across the ocean Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. Over the course of years, each searches for meaning in the study of Pu’er, the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for centuries.
A powerful story about two women separated by circumstance, culture, and distance, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is an unforgettable portrait of a little known region and its people and a celebration of the bonds of family.
Praise for Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
April 2017 Indie Next List Selection
March 2017 Library Reads Selection
An Amazon Best of the Month Editor’s Pick
A Barnes and Noble Best New Fiction Recommendation for March
“The story begins small, plunging us into the immersive detail of a single grueling day picking tea with the young girl, Li-yan, her mother, A-ma, and the rest of their ethnic minority Akha family…What makes life bearable for the Akha is their belief system, which infuses every aspect of their daily lives. The full sweep of their practices is flawlessly embedded in See’s prose…The hardships that confront Li-yan in her life are as compelling as the fog-shrouded secret groves where she and her mother cultivate a special healing tea. I could have hung out here in remote China forever, but See has wider ground to cover, including Chinese adoption, the international fine tea market and modern Chinese migration to the United States… A lush tale infused with clear-eyed compassion, this novel will inspire reflection, discussion and an overwhelming desire to drink rare Chinese tea.”– Helen Simonson, The Washington Post
“One of the fascinating elements of See’s epic novel is the contrast between the isolated lives of the Akha and the globalized world of China’s larger cities — a contrast bridged by tea…Fans of the best-selling Snow Flower and the Secret Fan will find much to admire in The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, as both books closely illuminate stories of women’s struggles and solidarity in minority-ethnic and rural Chinese cultures…In rendering the complex pain and joy of the mother-daughter bond, Lisa See makes this novel — dedicated to her own mother, author Carolyn See, who died last year — a deeply emotional and satisfying read.”—Emily Gray Tedrowe, USA Today
“Lisa See transports readers to the remote mountains of China…come for the heartwarming bonding between mother and daughter; stay for the insight into Akha culture and the fascinating (really) history of the tea trade.”—Real Simple
“Enlightening… See’s extensively researched story of the tea production in Yunnan Province, especially the rare Pu’er tea unique to Spring Well Village and the mountains nearby, is fascinating…See’s ambitious novel touches on Chinese cultural history, the centuries-old intricacies of the tea business and both the difficulties and joys of Chinese-American adoptions. But ultimately it’s a novel about the strength of mother-daughter ties—peopled, as is each of See’s novels, with strong characters with whom the reader empathizes from the first page to the last.” —Deborah Donovan, Bookpage
“With vivid and precise details about tea and life in rural China, Li-yan’s gripping journey to find her daughter comes alive.” —Publishers Weekly
“See, herself partly of Chinese ancestry, creates a complex narrative that ambitiously includes China’s political and economic transformation, little-known cultural history, the intricate challenges of transracial adoption, and an insightful overview of the global implications of specialized teas…See’s focus on the unbreakable bonds between mothers and daughters, by birth and by circumstance, becomes an extraordinary homage to unconditional love.” —Booklist
“The adage ‘no coincidence, no story,’ from China’s Akha minority serves as the backbone for this latest offering from See. Coincidences abound in this illuminating novel that contributes historical and social insight into the Akha…With strong female characters, See deftly confronts the changing role of minority women, majority-minority relations, East-West adoption, and the economy of tea in modern China.” —Library Journal
“Engrossing…a riveting exercise in fictional anthropology.” —Kirkus Reviews
What Readers Are Saying About The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
I ought to know better by now. Don’t start a new Lisa See book right before bed. In fact, don’t bring a Lisa See book anywhere near your bed. You will never get to sleep on time. I stayed up so late last night reading this book that I fell asleep while I was reading. I was awakened by my kindle falling onto my face when my hands relaxed. Don’t laugh, you know you’ve been there.
This was an engrossing read. It was a gentle, thoughtful, and thought-provoking book. A young girl named Li-yan is part of the Akha people living in rural China. They are considered an ethnic minority and are very isolated from modern lifestyles. Her family’s life revolves around their traditions and heritage, and the growing of tea. Li-yan, on the other hand is different. She has aspirations, she is intellectually curious, bright and kind hearted. Unfortunately, she becomes pregnant out of wedlock and this is what drives her story.
It’s a wonderful book. About the ties of family, heritage, tradition , culture and how those things bind us to each other. Our shared story, our love for one another, are like roots that anchor us while we travel through life. They give us stability and are invaluable. I’m so envious. My family is a multi-generation American family. We have roots in Spain, France and Italy and also part of the Native American tribes of New Mexico and Arizona. My family has moved on from the reservation so long ago that no one alive remembers anymore what it was like, the details of our customs, language or who our people were. Somewhere along the line, we assimilated. To my mind, it’s a terrible thing. I suppose that’s one reason why I love Ms. See’s books so much. They are rich and full of life, full of people who are able to retain their connection with the past.
I also can be sure that I will always learn something new from a book by Ms. See. My favorite, Peony in Love, taught me about Chinese opera and the Chinese afterworld. It is a beautiful, poetic book. From Shanghai Girls I learned about the awful Nanking atrocities, Angel Island and the immigrant experience in California. The second novel in the Shanghai Girl series, Dreams of Joy, taught me a great deal about the Cultural Revolution in China and the Great Leap Forward. Both of those books are tragic and wonderful.
I was so thrilled to receive this book from the publisher. I knew I would enjoy it. I’m quite sure I’ll be reading it again in the future. Don’t hesitate to read it too if you enjoy Women’s Literature or books about China.
Anne Foster :
I was already a fan of Lisa See’s novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, so I had high expectations for this novel and I was not disappointed! A beautiful and heartbreaking story of a mother in China forced to give up her newborn daughter who is then adopted by parents in America, it intertwines Li-yan’s story with daughter, Haley as they both struggle to survive in separate cultures. We feel Li-yan’s pain as she is forced to abandon her family and homeland, and then empathize as she embraces modern culture to become a global citizen and find new happiness and love. We see Haley grow from a sickly infant into a lovely and intelligent young woman who seeks answers about her heritage and homeland. Tea making is the beautiful motif that binds the two women together and I wept at the mystical, lyrical conclusion. What a treasure this novel is; it will resonate with me for a long time!
I have read everyone of Lisa See’s book and have always been a big fan. This will be one of my favorites. The story is about “girl”, a member of the Akha tribe, a hill people in Yunnan prefecture in China. Akha grow and collect tea and not so many years ago where shut off almost completely from modern society – no TV, no schooling really, no electricity. A strong belief in spirits and the natural world caused many superstitions like getting rid of human rejects and not touching spirit gates. Girl overcomes these obstacles and becomes a tea seller that owns her own company, while the Akha world is changing rapidly due to the contact with modernism. Loved the story and accompanying history lesson about Pu’er tea and the Akha minority population.