‘The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane’ by Lisa See/a Review

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
by Lisa See
Length: 371 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Scribner Books
Release Date: March 2017
Source: Paperback

     The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane offers a snapshot of life among the Akha minority tribe in China. The story opens in the late 1980s, following the lives of Li-yan and her family in Spring Well Village. The Akha community heavily rely on tea production, and work in laborious tasks year after year in order to provide families with the food and necessities required to survive the long months. Each member of the Akha people also rely on spirit work and dream interpretation in order to foster abundance and keep away bad omens. ‘Every story, every dream, every waking minute of our lives is filled with one coincidence after another’ states Li-yan’s mother, using her storied wisdom to work as a powerful midwife. It is through dreams that a young Li-yan foresees a negative omen among her people: a dog standing on a roof. What follows afterward are a series of events that paints Li-yan’s perspectives on taking her mother’s place  in the future, while struggling to deal with the reality of set traditions against her true interests in life.

     Li-yan’s journey is peppered with the pitfalls and suffering that were largely known among women living in China. She has a relationship with a man that her family doesn’t approve of, and becomes pregnant. While Akha tradition dictates that Li-yan is giving birth to a ‘bad omen’, with the help of her A-ma (mother), she gives birth to a daughter and gives her up for adoption. Li-yan feels crushed upon sending her daughter away, and while her life journey takes some significant turns, she never stops thinking about ‘what could have been’.

     Throughout the book, Lisa See beautifully describes the relationship between mothers and daughters. She reveals the strict yet loving bond between Li-yan and her a-ma, as she advises her to move forward with her life despite the pitfalls she already experienced in her young life. ‘You cannot let memories of what happened in the past turn you into someone you wouldn’t recognize’. Li-yan’s mother becomes the guiding light in her story, as she moves on to become a strong business woman with her mother’s blessing.

     Simultaneously, we learn about the journey of her daughter with her new family, as the story takes into account her yearning to learn about the roots of her heritage. From her tough beginnings before her adoptive parents came into the picture, through the struggles she faced while learning about her roots, to discovering the life-changing abilities of Pu’er while studying in higher education. Li-yan’s daughter takes the initiative in learning about her origins, and her personal journey takes a surprising turn as a result. Reading this parallel journey between mother and daughter was a refreshing take on the quest in both women discovering their love for one another.

     Lisa See always paints a vivid picture of life in different regions in China, taking the reader back in time to experience what the community experienced. In this case, the region is a hidden tribe within Yunnan beginning in the late 80s. Life among the Akha is extremely primitive, even during a time when most people in the modern world live with creature comforts of lights and automobiles. Their cloistered living radically shifts with the arrival of a tea connoisseur, introducing the concept of Pu’er, a raw form of tea extracted from older trees. It is the concept of Pu’er, and learning how to harvest and produce such a sacred nutrient, that shifts the path of Li-yan’s (and her daughter’s) life permanently. Li-yan uses the guidance of her Akha upbringing to foster a deep rooted respect in producing tea, and keeping this same spirit symbolism and dream interpretation to provide a healthy outlook in seeking out her daughter. It is this thread that keeps Li-yan and the other women in her family on a strong path to empowerment and survival.

     I purchased The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane very recently, and I was so excited. I always enjoy reading Lisa See’s work, since her writing style infuses me with wisdom as she travels to different regions in China. With a break finally presenting itself in my professional life, I savored this story and was very thankful. Although I’m very late in reading this book, I’m glad to share that it was worth the wait!

Rating: 5/5 Stars  

Sunday Sentence: July 28

I’m participating in David Abrams’s ‘Sunday Sentence‘ project, sharing the best sentence I’ve read during the past week, ‘out of context and without commentary’.

‘You cannot let memories of what happened in the past turn you into someone you wouldn’t recognize’.

Source: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

My Reading Rush TBR

I’ve been hearing so much about The Reading Rush (happening from July 22-28), I figured that I should give it a shot. Even though I don’t have a Booktube channel, I love taking part in readathons in general. I’ll blog about my progress throughout the week.

Here is my TBR list for The Reading Rush:

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
Genre: YA Fantasy
Length: 456 pages
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release Date: June 4, 2019

All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery—magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.

Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire. Elisabeth’s desperate intervention implicates her in the crime, and she is torn from her home to face justice in the capital. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.

As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught—about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
Publisher: Scribner Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 371 pages
Release Date: March 21, 2017

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 poor choice—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. 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 circumstances, culture, and distance, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane paints an unforgettable portrait of a little known region and its people and celebrates the bond of family.

Small Country by Gael Faye
Length: 183 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Hogarth Press
Release Date: June 5, 2018

In 1992, Gabriel, ten years old, lives in Burundi in a comfortable expatriate neighborhood with his French father, his Rwandan mother and his little sister, Ana. In this joyful idyll, Gabriel spends the better part of his time with his mischievous band of friends, in a tiny cul-de-sac they have turned into their kingdom. But their peaceful existence will suddenly shatter when this small African country is brutally battered by history.

In this magnificent coming-of-age story, Gael Faye describes an end of innocence and drives deep into the heart and mind of a young child caught in the maelstrom of history.

Mid Year Book Freakout Tag

It’s amazing that 2019 is halfway through! I’ve been seeing this tag circulate throughout June, and I’m glad that I’m finally taking part in it. I see this as a way to relieve wedding planning stress lol!
I came across this book tag through Adventures of a Bibliophile‘s page.

Best Book You’ve Read So Far in 2019
I really enjoyed Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I read the audiobook version of this story, and it was absolutely amazing. It felt like I was listening to an actual band’s rise and fall in history. The Oyster Thief by Sonia Faraqi was a close second in favorite reads thus far.

Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far in 2019
I haven’t really read through a sequel yet! I’m currently in progress of reading Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. So far I’m enjoying it!

Most Anticipated Release For The Second Half of the Year
I can’t wait to read A Dream So Dark by L.L. McKinney. I really love reading Alice in Wonderland reboots, and A Blade So Black was a lovely modern take on a classic story. The book features a strong, African-American character as Alice, which is very empowering.

Biggest Disappointment
I wasn’t particularly into Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo. As much as it was refreshing to discover Nikolai, I found the story as mostly filler.

Biggest Surprise
Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan. I was pleasantly surprised in discovering how good this story was! The message of female empowerment in the face of a patriarchal society came through clearly.

Newest Fictional Crush
I would say that Joe Reynolds from Time After Time was very intriguing to learn about! He was hard-working and passionate at the same time, and that always wins me over.

Newest Favorite Character
Addison Hatta in A Blade So Black. He was a super cool individual!

Book That Made You Cry
Daisy Jones and the Six. The last hour of the story was heartbreaking!

Book That Made You Happy
Wish by Barbara O’Connor. It was so endearing, and the dog/child bond was adorable!

Favorite Book to Film Adaptation
Honestly, I haven’t watched too many book to film programs this year. I heard that Good Omens is amazing to watch on Amazon Prime, so I should catch an episode of that series.

Favorite Post You Have Done This Year
I would say that the post about ‘The First Book Series I Read’ was one that I really liked writing about. I love all the posts I’ve worked on, but I enjoyed looking back on what I read when I was younger!

Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought This Year
Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau-Preto. I received it through OwlCrate a couple months ago.

What Books Do You Need To Read By the End of the Year
Definitely A Dream So Dark by L.L. McKinney, and Girls of Storm and Shadow by Natasha Ngan. I’m looking forward to reading The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See as well.