The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane (2017)

by Lisa See

Novelist Lisa See, who has written prolifically about her Chinese heritage, explores another aspect in the story of Li-Yan from a remote tea-growing region of China. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is about many things: tea, motherhood, tradition, cultural differences, international adoption, the Cultural Revolution in China. 

Li-Yan is the only daughter of a tea-growing family of the Akha people, one of China’s ethnic minorities. Well into the second half of 20th century, the Akha, isolated in the mountains of Yunnan Province, hold to their traditional beliefs in taboos, spirits, cleansing rituals, and the authority of shamans. When Li-Yan has a baby outside marriage, Akha law requires her to kill it, but Li-Yan saves her daughter by depositing her at an orphanage. The rest of the story details the next two decades in both their lives. Li-Yan’s abandoned daughter, Haley, is adopted by a white Los Angeles couple. Li-Yan leaves her insular village, becomes a successful tea master, and marries a wealthy man. Selling the rare tea of her family, she turns about their fortunes and brings them into the modern world. Li-Yan and her daughter are led to discover one another through tea.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is a compassionate, universal story of a mother’s love and sacrifice and a prodigiously researched, unique story about a minority culture. Lisa See devoted the book to her own mother, writer Carolyn See, who died of cancer as the novel was in production.


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