The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See (February 2018)

Globalism, women's spaces, the rise of China, and dismantling the patriarchy - all seen from the viewpoint of a girl from the rural mountains.

Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane Book Club

Official description:

Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. There is ritual and routine, and it has been ever thus for generations. Then one day a jeep appears at the village gate—the first automobile any of them have seen—and a stranger arrives.

In this remote Yunnan village, the stranger finds the rare tea he has been seeking and a reticent Akha people. In her biggest seller, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, See introduced the Yao people to her readers. Here she shares the customs of another Chinese ethnic minority, the Akha, whose world will soon change. Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, translates for the stranger and is among the first to reject the rules that have shaped her existence. When she has a baby outside of wedlock, rather than stand by tradition, she wraps her daughter in a blanket, with a tea cake hidden in her swaddling, and abandons her in the nearest city.

After mother and daughter have gone their separate ways, Li-yan slowly emerges from the security and insularity of her village to encounter modern life while Haley grows up a privileged and well-loved California girl. Despite Haley’s happy home life, she wonders about her origins; and Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. They both search for and find answers in the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for generations.


Kit's thoughts: I really responded to this story. It’s themes of unconditional love and understanding between women were wonderful, I found myself tearing up at the crucial moments, and I loved the deep look into a culture I knew nothing about... but most importantly to me were the feelings of being pulled between worlds. Old and new, tradition vs exploration - this is something I know I feel a lot of as a nomad (even with a family who was fairly nomadic to begin with).

Kit Whelan