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review 2017-11-13 18:16
Not a Strong Showing by See
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane - Lisa See

Trigger warning: descriptions of infanticide 


I think that if Lisa See had cut down on some of the historical elements and developed her characters more I would have liked this. I do think that part of the problem was the overly abundant coincidences in this book. And I also think that the ending was written before the beginning. One of my professors used to tell us when we are writing, to not be so focused on the ending, but on the beginning and the middle. The ending was a great gut punch, the middle and ending of this book, not so much.


See focuses on the Akha people (the Akha are an indigenous hill tribe who live in small villages at higher elevations in the mountains of Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and Yunnan Province in China). I bring that up, cause a casual reader may be confused by this (as I was at parts). I felt I had to do a lot of look up words/research while reading this book which I just wasn't in the mind-set to deal with at this time.


The main character is Li-yan (FYI I had to go and look that up since her real name is mentioned only maybe twice in the book, she is referred to as Girl [a good 50 plus percent of the book] or Tina [eh maybe 10 percent of the book] throughout the book.

Li-yan is the daughter of the village midwife and is expected to marry well and become a midwife as well. Her life changes though after a strange dream and then meets a young boy at the market.


Li-yan starts to see her people as backwards due to their traditions (parts of this story are very grim so be careful with reading this one). Li-yan realizes that she doesn't want to follow in her mother's footsteps and is going to do what she can to get placed in secondary and third schooling so she can be someone outside of her village. She also dreams of marrying a young boy from her school and having lots of children with him.


Li-yan's life gets off course though when she has a baby out of wedlock which means the baby should be put to death when born (not a spoiler, in synopsis) when Li-yan goes against tradition, she finds herself living a life outside of her village. 


The writing is just okay. I think that other reviewers have noted that there is a lot of historical information in this one and there is. I think that See decided to do what she did with her "Shanghai Girls" books and decided to have a book that covers a lot of historical events. It just loses something I think in this telling when you have a character remarking on something that I don't think in the moment they would find to be momentous. 


Also, I have to say, that for how "backwards" the village where Li-yan is shown and their traditions, I had a hard time believing these same people would so willingly part with them.

I also hope you like reading about tea, cause this book includes every little detail about them and I got bored. I love tea! I just don't want to read pages upon pages about how it is picked, smelled, how it should be brewed, etc. 


I think that the book starts off pretty slow. We begin with Li-yan relaying a dream to her family and going tea picking. You don't get a good idea of what is even going on for a good 15-20 percent of the story. See jumps around a lot (enjoy that) and goes into 

Li-yan's family, her best friend's family and some (not all) of the villagers. We get historical dumps (that is what I am calling them) throughout the story by Li-yan or other characters. Nothing quite gels together. 


I think for me, the moment when I totally lost interest was when Li-yan realizes the man she gave up a lot for is not what she thought. I just had a hard time buying her realization considering she ignored everyone that tried to tell her about him before. 


I also hate how we jump over things that I think would have been interesting. 

The book jumps back and forth between Li-yan and her daughter. I think the book would have been stronger if both POVs would have been told in the first person. Instead we get first person POV from Li-yan and just excerpts from Li-yan's daughter via her mother, teachers, and even therapist at one point. I never got a chance to know her and I really didn't feel drawn to her as a character.


After the 25th coincidence (kidding, but not really) the book ends. 

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text 2017-11-13 17:31
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane - Lisa See

Really boring with too many coincidences to be believed. I generally like much of See's work, but this whole book felt off. We rushed through too many events to skip ahead to an unrealistic ending. 

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text 2017-11-12 18:24
Reading progress update: I've read 50%.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane - Lisa See

It's an interesting story, but not feeling that engaged with it. The storyline has dragged so far for me.

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review 2017-07-05 04:45
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane - Lisa See

It's been a while since I read a Lisa See book. I had a digital copy of this book thanks to NetGalley, but I opted to listen to it when I had the chance. Sometimes, when there are foreign names and places, I prefer this, rather than have the voice in my head stumbling over unfamiliar words. This was a well done audio book, but not my favorite Lisa See book of the bunch I have read - Snowflower and the Secret Fan is probably still my favorite.


In any case, I did learn a lot about the ethnic minority Akha people and the tea growing region in China, and the characters were interesting and unique. There were some things that didn't jibe for me, including the fairly open-minded views about sex in the culture, but then an almost complete ignorance of how these actions relate to procreation. Despite Li-yan's age and far flung experiences, she still seemed incredibly immature even as she aged throughout the story. I found the historical aspects and the details of the tea industry fascinating, but there were other parts that were predictable and repetitive that distracted from the story.


I was reminded of the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland (I saw the movie, not sure if I would recommend it, unless you need a reason to drink) while reading this book because I had the same shocked reaction to discover that the story took place in the present day. Li-yan's village has barely seen a car in the 1990s; when an actual date was finally mentioned well into the story I was stunned — I thought I was reading about a culture from the 1800s. So yes, Lisa See once again presents a compelling topic and a wealth of information, and for that reason I look forward to the next book she has to offer.

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review 2017-05-01 00:42
Using a little known tea producing community in China as a vehicle, the author exposes their slow entrance into modernity and couples it to expose many human rights violations and their resultant effect on society.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane - Lisa See

The Tea Bird of Hummingbird Lane, Lisa See, author; Ruthie Ann Miles, Kimiko Glenn, Alexandra Allwine, Gabra Zackman, Jeremy Bobb, Joy Osmanski, Emily Walton, Erin Wilhelmi, narrators This novel truly illuminates the archaic nature of the hill tribes of Yunnan Province and their Chinese tea culture, beginning in the late 1980’s, when most of the rest of the world has advanced into advanced technology and modernity. Much of China’s tea raising communities still existed in the past, without creature comforts, and in the absence of any kind of women’s rights or modern laws about the sanctity of life. It was a male dominated society, largely governed by superstition, tradition and spirits. In the hill villages they still practiced backward rituals to cure disease, rid the community of evil influences, enhance a woman’s fertility, and made group decisions which governed everyone’s behavior. Li-yan (later, sometimes called Tina Chang), was born in Spring Well, in Yunnan. She belonged to an ethnic minority called Akha. The majority were Han. The Cultural Revolution had only recently ended. Her story begins when she was ten years old, in 1988. It was at that time that she was considered old enough to learn how to be a midwife like her mother. Before they left for the birthing, she was asked by her mother what she had dreamed the night before. To prevent despair, Li-yan lied about its content, which predicted misfortune. Instead, she altered the dream to make it more propitious. Did her dream portend disaster? Could it be prevented if the truth went unspoken? Could evil spirits pass through the Spirit Gate? The birth, she later witnessed, educated her into the ritual, cruel superstitious ways of the Akha, ways she must follow and obey, even though they were not to her liking. When the mother gave birth to twins, they had to be put to death. Twins were considered human rejects; they were an evil omen requiring a special ceremony, after which, the parents were to be banished from the community to prevent the spread of evil. Learning of this heinous action, still believed in so recently, was particularly horrifying to me, since I am one half of a fraternal twin! Li-yan’s mother explained that this practice must be adhered to in order to keep the community safe and prevent the spread of the human rejects. If one was allowed to live, they would soon multiply and infect the entire community, bringing evil spirits down upon them, along with misfortune. They were following a “Hitlerian” practice of eugenics! Shortly after this incident, Li-yan was brought to see her secret dowry. It was considered to be a worthless piece of land, but it was her mother’s treasure, handed down to a woman in the family, generation after generation. It was a secret tea mountain with ancient trees. Although all possessions were supposed to be transferred to the husband, according to tradition, her mother had not done so with this land; men were forbidden from entering there. The tea leaves on those trees seemed to have unique medicinal qualities that her mother used to brew a tea to help heal the sick. No one knew the location of the trees producing these special leaves, except Li=yan and her mother, although there were some who were driven to discover them. When Li-yan was taken to the tea market, for the sale of their tea, she met a young boy, San-pa, a member of the same ethnic minority, the Akha. He was headstrong with a wild reputation. She spied him hiding and eating a pancake she coveted, however, unbeknownst to her, he had stolen it. He offered her a bite and she accepted. Like the biting of Eve’s apple, by Adam, this sin of biting the pancake was soon discovered. Because her mouth was greasy from the pancake, she was considered complicit, and she too was chastised and punished. Her behavior brought disgrace upon her family requiring a payment they could little afford and a cleansing ritual performed by the village shamans in front of everyone. When Mr. Huang, a supposed tea connoisseur came to the community to search for tea, he was at first rebuffed, but soon he was embraced and the community began to harvest tea only for him. He had a son with him who soon became beloved by Li-Yan and her mother, although each was unaware of the friendship each had developed with him. Mr. Huang was very influential in the lives of Li-yan and her community over the next several decades. When school began, Li-yan discovered San-pa again. As the years passed, their relationship deepened, but her family refused to allow them to marry. He went off to make his fortune and promised to return for her. When she found herself with child, she was forced to conceal her pregnancy because he had not returned. As with twins, a child born out of wedlock was a human reject; it brought evil into the community and disgrace to the family. That child must be killed, but Li-yan refused to kill her child, Yan-yeh. With the help of her mother, defying her own culture, Yan-yeh was left near an orphanage. In the child’s swaddling, the grandmother placed a special tea cake to take her safely on her way, and one day, hopefully, to help her return. Li-yan missed the exams for college, because of the work for Mr. Huang during the tea season, but she was invited to attend a trade school and from there to attend a newly instituted college of tea study. She became and expert and a successful entrepreneur with her own tea shop. One day, she met an interesting woman in the park. Soon she married the woman’s son, Jin, a member of the ethnic majority, the Han, and she could never have imagined his great wealth. She was a Cinderella figure! From the time she abandoned her child, she was determined to find her again. However, she was unsuccessful, and soon, she had another child, a son, Paul. Meanwhile, another story develops alongside Li-yan’s. The child she abandoned was adopted and sent to the United States. She was brought up in California, as Haley Davis, by white parents; she went through all of the traumas adoptees suffer, in addition to being ridiculed, sometimes, because she did not look like her parents. She developed an interest in the tea industry, perhaps because she had always treasured the tea cake left in her swaddling, and she followed a career in that direction, like her birth mother. Through her letters and her psychological and medical evaluations, we learned about her life and how it would one day come full circle allowing her to return to her roots. As you must realize by now, the story was like a fairy tale. All of the characters eventually interconnected. The story was often contrived, but for the most part, it was an interesting novel. I enjoyed learning about the Chinese culture, and I found the descriptions of tea production eye-opening. I learned a great deal about a special brew of tea that is called Puerr*** and is known for its medicinal and calming qualities. I also learned some very unusual expressions used by the Akha. The book really illuminated the rise of the tea industry and the rise of prosperity in the tea producing communities. It even introduced the production of coffee there, as well. It explored the problems of immigrant adoption, with all of its ramifications for the families, the adoptees and those that had to abandon their own because of archaic, barbaric laws and superstitions. It illustrated the effect of the cultural revolution from 1966-1976, on Chinese society to some degree, as well. The book examined family ties and superstitions, the psychological issues faced by children adopted into families that were not of their own race, the lack of a woman’s right to make her own choices, human trafficking, to some degree, the often hopeless search for birth parents, and the clash of cultures. The history of Li-yan‘s life began in 1988 and Haley’s began in 1995. As their two lives paralleled, the reader learned of their experiences up until the current day, in 2016. They could not help but be struck by the two completely different worlds they lived in and enjoyed. Learning about the traditions, spirits, legends and incantations that guided them was very interesting. On the negative side, the author could not help inserting her own personal views on climate change into the narrative. I felt Haley was the stereotypical Asian child, with a love of violin and learning. She was obedient and eager to please, upwardly mobile and ambitious. Her adopted parents were over protective. They feared what all adoptive parents fear, that the child will reject them. The child feared being returned. The aphorisms, proverbs and actual history were truly interesting, but the tale itself, while it rolled out smoothly lacked credibility. Both Li-yan and Haley were alternately too naïve or too worldly. Li-yan had the Midas touch; Haley was at the top of all her classes. Both succeeded beyond their expectations with all things in their lives seeming to fall into place serendipitously, although there was no development of the relationship between Li-yan and Haley when the book ended. Perhaps there will be a sequel. ***For more information on Puerr tea, the following sites are helpful:http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/08/what-is-puerh-tea-where-to-buy.html For a tea to be called pu-erh, it must be made from the large-leaf subspecies Camellia sinensis var. assamica and grown in Yunnan Province in China's southwest, where Han Chinese as well as many ethnic minorities share borders with Burma and Laos. It's one of the few teas to be designated a protected origin product by the Chinese government, a rarity in an industry run wild with loose, unregulated terms and limited oversight” http://www.teavana.com/us/en/tea/pu-erh-tea Pu-erh tea is sometimes called the diet tea. Pu Erh teas (or Pu'er teas) are aged for 15 years and known for their rich earthy flavor and medicinal qualities. www.webmd.com/.../ingredientmono-1169-pu-erh%20tea.aspx?...pu-erh%20tea Green tea is not fermented, oolong tea is partially fermented, black tea is fully fermented, and Pu-erh tea is post-fermented. ... Pu-erh tea is used as medicine. ... Pu-erh tea contains caffeine, although not as much caffeine as other teas. https://www.rishi-tea.com/category/pu-erh-tea

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