The hardships that confront Li-yan in her life are as compelling as the fog-shrouded secret groves where she and her mother cultivate a special healing tea. I could have hung out here in remote China forever, but See has wider ground to cover, including Chinese adoption, the international fine tea market and modern Chinese migration to the United States. It is harder to write with empathy about rich people, and as the story takes its biggest leap — from rural China to wealthy Los Angeles — I did chortle at the line 'Three days later I’m in Beverly Hills having dinner in a restaurant called Spago.' But it is a testament to See’s ability as a writer and to her impeccable research that she commands our attention again immediately ... A lush tale infused with clear-eyed compassion, this novel will inspire reflection, discussion and an overwhelming desire to drink rare Chinese tea.
Fans of the best-selling Snow Flower and the Secret Fan will find much to admire in The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, as both books closely illuminate stories of women’s struggles and solidarity in minority-ethnic and rural Chinese cultures. At times the author’s research strains Tea Girl, weighing the story down with a fair amount of minutely detailed tea production methods. But in rendering the complex pain and joy of the mother-daughter bond, Lisa See makes this novel — dedicated to her own mother, author Carolyn See, who died last year — a deeply emotional and satisfying read.
It may be present day, but Li-yan is not at all like the Chinese-American girls of China Dolls or Dreams of Joy. This book takes us someplace entirely fresh … Luckily, mothers are no longer expected to inflict such literal pain, but the mother-daughter relationship is still too often fraught with demands and disappointments. See makes it clear that modern times have given women more freedom and more choices, but it comes with a different kind of pain…The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane explores these issues and reveals the difficulties inherent in our decisions … The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane was not originally conceived to commemorate Carolyn See, but what a beautiful and fitting memorial it has become.
The rest of the novel is strong, but sometimes feels off balance due to the different narrative techniques used to tell the mother and daughter’s diverging stories. See doesn’t always trust the reader’s ability to make the leap into an Akha girl’s mind, and pushes too hard to generate understanding ... evocatively conjured through tremendous research, so much so that it steals the spotlight from the inherent drama of a girl who loses her daughter and leaves her traditional world behind. Still, the novel is an alluring escape, a satisfying and vivid fable that uses an Akha belief to tap into our own longings for coincidence.
This is a complex story, involving some deeply troubling Akha customs such as killing twins at birth because tribal customs see them as an evil omen ... This reviewer had no idea how much there was to learn about the many varieties of tea, its marketing and how many people have become rich selling it around the world. The real reward in See’s latest novel, though, is following the story of Li-Yan as she moves to the United States, yet never severing her connections with her home in Yunnan province. This modern novel fills in interesting details about Chinese adoptions, and many readers will find it quite satisfying.
...a complex narrative that ambitiously includes China’s political and economic transformation, little-known cultural history, the intricate challenges of transracial adoption, and an insightful overview of the global implications of specialized teas. The only possible flaw is that some may consider her magic-wand ending unbelievable. As this is her first book since losing her own mother, bestselling author Carolyn See (to whom it is dedicated), See’s focus on the unbreakable bonds between mothers and daughters, by birth and by circumstance, becomes an extraordinary homage to unconditional love.
While Li-Yan matures into a successful tea master, the daughter, Haley, is adopted into a white American family in Los Angeles, and her existence is revealed in sporadic letters, school reports, and, later, emails. These sections capture both Haley’s desire to fully integrate into her adopted family and her curiosity and heartache about her mother and the only clue she left behind: a tea cake. With vivid and precise details about tea and life in rural China, Li-Yan’s gripping journey to find her daughter comes alive.
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.