Li-yan is a member of an ethnic minority in modern day China. The story begins before Tiananmen Square and before the official push for Chinese to become rich. It is also about the time that foreign families began adopting Chinese orphans–mostly unwanted daughters. Li-yan’s ethnic group has strong beliefs and one is in “human rejects”–twins, children born out-of-marriage and children with disabilities are all left to die or are simply killed outright at birth. Li-yan defies tradition in a few important ways and one is to abandon her newborn daughter to an orphanage.
The book follows the lives of boy Li-yan and her abandoned daughter who grows up in a wealthy California family as Haley.
If you loved anthropology in college then you’ll love most of this book. It goes into extreme detail on the Akha people, their traditional way of life, beliefs and, courting and marriage customs.
If you are interested in tea, this is also your book. Seemingly no aspect of tea growing or processing is left un-discussed by the story for Li-yan’s family grows tea and tea is what makes the story.
Haley’s adoptive parents do seek therapy for her to help her adjust even though she was an infant when she was adopted. They recognize that adoption starts with loss. That’s good. They also do all the things parents do to try to maintain the child’s links with his or her “birth” culture. And, Haley gets a fabulously expensive education and trips to China–first when she is 17 and again her senior year at Stanford.
I loved the story of Li-yan meeting a successful, single businessman. That was so sweet. I also loved the “eavesdropping” on Haley’s group therapy.
It was good enough that I kept listening though, especially in the later parts of the book.
UGH. Why all the discussion of how people have sex? If I’d read the phrase “doing the intercourse” or just “the intercourse” ONE. MORE. TIME. I’d have given up on this book. Please–we get it! The whole world does it. Cole Porter wrote a song about it for goodness sake! And it’s even all the way back in the Old Testament. That got really, really, really, really OLD. If they didn’t have sex, they’d die out. We get it already.
The cultural anthropology and tea production “lectures” were about as interesting as the average textbook. They also made for a lot of very stilted conversation which is a huge drag. I thought this could have been better handled with a long chapter-starting quote on some aspect of tea production or Akha culture and then they could have just shut up about the intercourse and drank the damned tea and talked about something else like normal people. You know, like, “Say Dad, have you checked the tea prices yet this morning?” But no! “No Girl [what Li-Yan is called in the family] I was too busy doing the intercourse and making sure first, second, and third brother were doing the intercourse. UGH. lol No wonder Li-yan got out! LOL. [Yes, I’m using text-speak so you know I’m joking.]
While all of Lisa See’s story’s have amazing coincidences or really unlikely happenings, this one really outdid the others. But, like someone once said about James Bond movies, “put your brains under the seat and don’t ask too many questions.” It is a compelling story in spite of my personal dislikes of certain aspects.
And why in novels do the buildings containing records always burn down? And do Chinese orphanages really keep things the kids came into the system with?
I will, of course, continue to read Lisa See’s books (or listen to them), but this one was almost thrown back. The later part of the book was much better, but then came the ending. Oh well….. Like Anita Shreve’s newest book [review] it was as though Lisa See just said “Oh what the heck….” and ended it. Very cliched and very unlikely.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
Book Club Bonus
Author Lisa See’s website offers Book Club Tea Tasting packages for only $25. The kit includes:
Included in this tea tasting kit are:
• 3 premium pu-erh teas
• 2 miniature tea cakes
• brewing instructions
• a discussion guide
• background information on each tea
I LOVE THIS!
I’ve never seen a tea cake, so I’d be especially interested in this tasting. Too bad I’m not in a book club though!
Video–the book’s inspiration
Author Lisa See discusses her inspiration for the book.