Gateway Gazette

From My Bookshelf: Lisa See

By Lynn Willoughby

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane ~ Lisa See

I have read other books by this author and when I started this one it was not what I expected.  There is a lot of prose devoted to tea farming, tradition, and especially to the Han minority people, the Akha.  But it did get better.
Living on a remote mountain in Yunan province with tea as the only cash crop for this small group.  “Opium and heroin had not caused our poverty and hopelessness.  Rather, poverty and hopelessness had brought about an unquenchable desire to forget.”  It is a difficult life at starvation level. Centuries of traditions are still followed – including a twelve day week.  “Girl” as she is called by her family and clan is allowed to attend school as long as she can keep up with her chores.  Her teacher, Mr Zhoug, has been sent to this remote mountain area as part of Mao’s Thirty Year Plan.  Mr Shoug tries to convince Girl’s father to allow her to attend secondary school, as he sees something very special in her.  But life interrupts and Li Yan’s life takes a very different turn.
I loved the history, how the Akha believed that every living thing had a spirit, how ownership of tea trees was matriarchal.  The religion, the taboos, the scarcity and the value of the Pu’er tea grown only in this isolated area was really, really interesting.  The widespread belief of the medicinal properties of this particular tea, the collectors lives and eventually the fortunes made and lost on tea speculation was all new to me.  I did get bogged down and bored when the story moved to the USA.  The extensive wordiness on international adoption and the “one child policy” in China threatened to end the reading for me. However, I persevered and was glad I did as the story-line picked up again in the last part of this novel.  And I learned more about tea than I ever expected to know!
  • Shanghai Girls
  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
………………….and others

Who Knew?

 “Pu’er tea is popular as a metabolism booster.  But it is actually the fine wine of the tea world – highly prized by connoisseurs and it only gets better with age.  The process to produce Pu’er tea is long, involved and shrouded in secrecy.” ~ David’s Tea

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