The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See tells a fascinating tale of Li-yan from a Yunnan village in China. Li-yan and her family are ethnic minority known as Akha People living in a remote mountain. With generations long traditions, these people of indigenous hill tribe have very strong beliefs and practices. For example, twin births or giving birth before marriage are regarded as human rejects and the custom requires the babies to be killed by their father and the parents to be banished from the community.
Li-yan finds it hard to accept some of these rituals. She tries to be a good girl who studies hard so she can leave this place one day. Like every teenager, she gets entangled in the web of love and when she realises she’s pregnant with San-pa’s child, he’s away from the village, working for their future. She hides her pregnancy and gives birth to a girl with the help of her mother. Afraid of the strict custom, she leaves the baby at the orphanage in another town. When San-pa returns, they go back to the orphanage but their baby girl is already sent away to be adopted by a couple in America.
The writer craftily gives a poignant story of love, loss, revival, hope and perseverance. Her polemical storytelling describes the racism and discrimination towards the ethnic minority as well as the consequences of One-child policy and 30-Years Land Right Policy. Through Haley, Li-yan’s daughter, and other adopted Chinese children in America, she earnestly highlights about emotional scars, racial discrimination, and stereotypical expectations from parents and peers, etc.
Another prominent feature of this novel is tea drinking culture. Lisa See extensively shares on tea, especially Pu’er and its related events in regional and international market. At some point, I crave for a cup of Pu’er. However, her ponderous narrative on tea, although thoroughly researched, distracts me from the stories of the characters. Apart from that, it was a moving story of love between mothers and daughters, rich with cultural references and equally thought provoking, too.