Title: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
Author: Lisa See
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
First let's set up a couple of things:
- this book is about tea. How it's grown, picked, fermented, dried, wrapped, sold, etc.
- this book is about being a Chinese minority (Akha) and how that makes one standout
- and this book is about international adoption. Both sides of adoption are explored here; the parent giving away their child and the child whom has been given up
The narrative is beautiful and generally compelling. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is without doubt a historical fiction novel; it's just that the history it tells is quite recent. And for many, including myself, it's always sobering and a bit shocking to think of people living without common amenities (like electricity and running water) in the late part of the 20th century. And not because necessarily choose to be without technology but because they are so poor and remotely located these amenities are foreign to them.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is so well researched you could probably write a thesis about the tradition and origin of tea from it. I hadn't read a Lisa See book before this and didn't know what to expect. At times while reading this I wondered how much was really true about the tea trade and Akha tradition. Had I paid attention I would have found out sooner (than the acknowledgements) that Lisa See did tons of research; never mind, she visited the area and villages she speaks about! This means the richness and details of tea and the culture are impeccable. It's even better that because they are presented in the context of our story the details are never boring.
I know a few people have been put off by the beginning of this novel, and I too was a bit unsure. The introduction includes a very graphic description of a birth and a horror immediately following it. I can see how some would immediately stop reading for fear the whole book is this way. Rest assured, it's not. The most graphic parts are early in the story and not a common theme throughout. It is worth the pay-off to stick through the beginning if your at all captivated by Lisa See's gorgeous story and writing.
That said, I can't help but feel this book would probably be five stars for me if there had been a little more restraint with the graphic details of birthing in a village with no amenities. As someone whom has not had children (and cannot) I felt like the explicit descriptions here were excessive and in the end added no real value even for someone like me who has not experienced or witnessed birth firsthand. I think it could have been described without all the gory moments. Another small critique is that midway through I felt like I had just read a thought and there it was repeated. So perhaps a tiny bit of editing the fat would have helped (not details of the tea or Akha; just the narrative of our main gal was a bit repetitive).
Overall, a gorgeous book that reveals a part of Chinese (minority) culture most didn't even know existed (myself included). I would go far as to say this is the 'Memoirs of a Geisha' for the Akha.
If you are at all intrigued by any of the following: Chinese culture, tea, one child policy, international adoption, the love a mother has, how a group goes from a traditional tribe to becoming a part of the 21st century, or historical fiction in general, then I believe you will enjoy this book immensely.
Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review. Don't believe me? Check out the other books I've had eARCs for that I gave poor reviews to. I always give my opinion whether good or bad.