The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

Lisa See (China Dolls) pays homage to the enduring bond between mother and daughter while also illuminating the fascinating world of small tea farms in China during the economic reforms of the 1980s and '90s.

Born of the Akha people in the Yunnan province hills of southern China, Li-Yan knows her future by the age of 10. Like her a-ma, she will become the midwife and healer of Spring Well Village and marry a boy from a neighboring tea farm. A hidden grove of ancient tea trees and medicinal plants makes up her dowry, passed through the generations by the women of her family.

When Teacher Zhang suggests that Li-Yan has the intelligence to become the first person from her community to go to college, she sees a way out of her narrow existence. Then Mr. Huang, a Hong Kong businessman, arrives in Spring Well looking for the source of fermented Pu'er tea, an up-and-coming Hong Kong trend said to have health benefits. Between translating her family's words to Mr. Huang and sneaking away to meet San-Pa, the boy she loves, Li-Yan misses her opportunity to test into college. Worse, after San-Pa leaves to earn money for their marriage, Li-Yan realizes she's pregnant. When he does not return, tradition dictates she must kill her fatherless daughter at birth, but Li-Yan rebels and leaves newborn Yan-Yeh at the Menghai Social Welfare Institute, but never stops grieving for her lost child. Meanwhile, Yan-Yeh is adopted by an American family and struggles to understand why her birth mother abandoned her.

Meticulously researched, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane explores the link between tea production and an ethnic minority's survival and customs. An intimate portrait, this family drama will dazzle book clubs eager to watch a woman rise above her circumstances against an uncommon and captivating backdrop. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

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