Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane (See)

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane 
Lisa See, 2017
Scribner
384 pp.
ISBN-13:
9781501154829


Summary
A thrilling new novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa See explores the lives of a Chinese mother and her daughter who has been adopted by an American couple.

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.

A powerful story about a family, separated by circumstances, culture, and distance, Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane paints an unforgettable portrait of a little known region and its people and celebrates the bond that connects mothers and daughters. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—February 18, 1955
Where—Paris, France
Education—B.A., Loyola Marymount University
Currently—lives in Los Angeles, California


Lisa See is an American writer and novelist. Her Chinese-American family (See has one Chinese great-grandparent) has had a great impact on her life and work. Her books include On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family (1995) and the novels Flower Net (1997), The Interior (1999), Dragon Bones (2003), Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005), Peony in Love (2007), Shanghai Girls (2009), which made it to the 2010 New York Times bestseller list, and China Dolls (2014).

Flower Net, The Interior, and Dragon Bones make up the Red Princess mystery series. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love focus on the lives of Chinese women in the 19th and 17th centuries respectively. Shanghai Girls chronicles the lives of two sisters who come to Los Angeles in arranged marriages and face, among other things, the pressures put on Chinese-Americans during the anti-Communist mania of the 1950s. See published a sequel titled Dreams of Joy.

Writing under the pen name Monica Highland, See, her mother Carolyn See, and John Espey, published three novels: Lotus Land (1983), 110 Shanghai Road (1986), and Greetings from Southern California (1988).

Biography
Lisa See was born in Paris but has spent many years in Los Angeles, especially Los Angeles Chinatown. Her mother, Carolyn See, is also a writer and novelist. Her autobiography provides insight into her daughter's life. Lisa See graduated with a B.A. from Loyola Marymount University in 1979.

See was West Coast correspondent for Publishers Weekly (1983–1996); has written articles for Vogue, Self, and More; has written the libretto for the opera based on On Gold Mountain, and has helped develop the Family Discovery Gallery for the Autry Museum, which depicts 1930s Los Angeles from the perspective of her father as a seven-year-old boy. Her exhibition On Gold Mountain: A Chinese American Experience was featured in the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, and the Smithsonian. See is also a public speaker.

She has written for and led in many cultural events emphasizing the importance of Los Angeles and Chinatown. Among her awards and recognitions are the Organization of Chinese Americans Women's 2001 award as National Woman of the Year and the 2003 History Makers Award presented by the Chinese American Museum. See has served as a Los Angeles City Commissioner. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 5/21/2014.)



Book Reviews
Everything about this book drew me in. As an adoptive mother, I sopped up See’s observations surrounding adoption with hungry interest. As a tea lover, I drank up the fascinating history of this industry. As a book lover, I cared deeply about the characters and outcome. Li-Yan does not blindly fall in line with practices and beliefs that go against her heart, but she preserves this truth from her village: "Every story, every dream, every waking minute of our lives is filled with one fateful coincidence after another." With The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Lisa See preserves her place as a master of historical fiction. My book club agreed.  READ MORE …
Abby Fabiaschi, AUTHOR - LitLovers


With vivid and precise details about tea and life in rural China, Li-Yan’s gripping journey to find her daughter comes alive.
Publishers Weekly


Coincidences abound in this illuminating novel that contributes historical and social insight into the Akhas.… With strong female characters, See deftly confronts the changing role of minority women, majority-minority relations, East-West adoption, and the economy of tea in modern China. —Suzanne Im, Los Angeles P.L.
Library Journal


Although representing exhaustive research on See's part, and certainly engrossing, the extensive elucidation of international adoption, tea arcana, and Akha lore threatens to overwhelm the human drama. Still, a riveting exercise in fictional anthropology.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. Discuss the significance of the epigraph. The Book of Songs is the oldest extant collection of Chinese poetry, written between the seventh and eleventh centuries B.C. What kind of resonance does it have today?

2. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane begins with the Akha aphorism, "No coincidence, no story." What are the major coincidences in the story? Are they believable? How important are they in influencing your reaction to the novel as a whole?

3. Perhaps the most shocking moment in the novel comes with the birth of the twins and what happens to them. A-ma explains that "only animals, demons, and spirits give birth to litters. If a sow gives birth to one piglet, then both must be killed at once. If a dog gives birth to one puppy, then they too must be killed immediately" (pages 27–28). The traditions surrounding twins are very harsh, to say the least, but were you able to understand what happens to them within the context of Akha culture? How does this moment change Li-yan’s view of Akha Law, and what are the consequences? Are there any aspects of the Akha culture that you admire?

4. What is Li-yan’s first reaction when she sees her land? Why does A-ma believe the tea garden is so important? Why does A-ma believe that the trees are sacred? What is the significance of the mother tree?

5. San-pa and Li-yan’s relationship ends tragically and causes them both great pain. Is what happens between them fate, or is it bad luck? In your opinion, does their community’s negativity about their union shape the outcome of their marriage? Does his death change your feelings about him?

6. Can the experience Li-yan’s village has with selling Pu’er be thought of as a microcosm for globalization? Why or why not? Are all the changes to the village positive? Given all we hear about China being a global economic superpower, were you surprised that the novel starts in 1988?

7. As a midwife, A-ma occupies a position of relative power on the mountain, although as "first among women" (page 4), she still comes after every man. Can such a traditional role for women be truly empowering? In the context of their society, what are the limits and expanse of A-ma’s power?

8. This novel uses a number of devices to tell Haley’s story, including letters, a transcript of a therapy session, and homework assignments. It isn’t until the final chapter, however, that you hear Haley in her own pure voice and see the world entirely from her point of view. Did this style of storytelling enrich your experience of the narrative? Did it make you more curious about Haley?

9. In the chapter transcribing a group therapy session for Chinese American adoptees that Haley attends, many of the patients have mixed feelings about their adoptive and birth parents. Were you surprised by their anger? Did reading this novel affect your feelings about transnational adoption?

10. The three most significant mother-daughter relationships in the novel are those between A-ma and Li-yan, Constance and Haley, and Li-yan and Haley. The connection between Li-yan and Haley, although arguably the emotional center of the novel, exists despite the absence of a relationship: though the two women think a great deal about each other, they do not meet until the very end of the story. How does this relationship in absence compare to the real-life relationships between A-ma and Li-yan and Constance and Haley?

11. What are the formal and informal ways in which Li-yan is educated? How are they different from the ways other members of her family were educated? What role does Teacher Zhang play in Li-yan’s life and how does it change over the years? How important is education in Haley’s life?

12. Li-yan is much older and more experienced when she meets Jin than she was when she fell in love with San-pa. How are the two men different? What do you think Li-yan learns from her first marriage?

13. Almost everyone in the novel has a secret: Li-yan, A-ma, San-pa, Mr. Huang, Deh-ja, Ci-teh, Teacher Zhang, Mrs. Chang, and Jin. How do those secrets impact each character? How are those secrets revealed and what are the results, particularly for Li-yan and Ci-teh’s relationship? The only person who doesn’t have a secret of major significance is Haley. What does that say about her?

14. When Li-yan returns to her village to confront Ci-teh, the ruma tells the women that Li-yan is still Akha even though she has a new home and lifestyle. How do questions of identity, especially as they relate to Li-yan’s status as an ethnic minority, play into the events of the novel? How does Li-yan’s identity shift? Do her nicknames, especially her American nickname, inform this shift?

15. By the time Li-yan and Haley meet, each has been searching for the other for many years. However, Haley already has a family and an adoptive mother. Is there room for Haley to have two mothers? How do you think Li-yan and Haley will relate to each other—as mother and child, or will their roles be something slightly different? What do you suppose Haley and Li-yan will talk about first?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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