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The Tea Girl from Hummingbird Lane, Lisa See

November 28, 2016

The Tea Girl from Hummingbird Lane, Lisa See. Scribner, 320 pages.  FORTHCOMING March 2017

3 stars

Another story by a prolific Chinese American author linking a Chinese mother and the daughter she is forced to give up to a couple from California.

Lisa See is herself the descendant of several generations of Chinese Americans.  She has researched and written about her own family history as well as novels often linking the two countries.  Her works include fiction set in and around Shanghai, mysteries, and adaptations of Chinese literature.  Her knowledge of China and its people is deep and insightful. While interesting and informative, I did not find her latest novel to be among her best.

The novel begins in Yunnan Province in far southwestern China, an area with mountains and extensive tea cultivation.  Li-yan and her family belong to the Akha tribe, a small, tight-knit, tea-growing clan in China in the 1980s. When she becomes pregnant before her marriage, she gives up her daughter to an American couple.  As Li-yan slowly becomes a successful tea merchant, she continues to pine for her daughter.  The daughter finds a loving home with her wealthy adoptive parents, but also continues to yearn for her birth mother.  The novel follows both women as they seek for each other.

In the course of telling her story, Lee provides abundant information about tea growing, processing, and selling, as well the lives and beliefs of a little known tribe of Chinese.  The novel, however, seems contrived and overly sentimental.  The rags to riches and happiness plot seemed artificial, and not up to the storytelling expertise that I have enjoyed in See’s earlier books.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 29, 2016 2:21 am

    I’ve read only one of her books – Shanghai Girls – and it was good in part, I especially liked the depiction of the immigrant experience. What a pity this latest one is disappointing

    • November 29, 2016 10:22 am

      I enjoyed her two books about Shanghai and her mysteries, too. I think she knows a lot about China, but more than that is needed to tell a good story.

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