The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

Front Cover
Simon and Schuster, Mar 21, 2017 - Fiction - 384 pages
31 Reviews
A thrilling new novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa See explores the lives of a Chinese mother and her daughter who has been adopted by an American couple.

Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. There is ritual and routine, and it has been ever thus for generations. Then one day a jeep appears at the village gate—the first automobile any of them have seen—and a stranger arrives.

In this remote Yunnan village, the stranger finds the rare tea he has been seeking and a reticent Akha people. In her biggest seller, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, See introduced the Yao people to her readers. Here she shares the customs of another Chinese ethnic minority, the Akha, whose world will soon change. Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, translates for the stranger and is among the first to reject the rules that have shaped her existence. When she has a baby outside of wedlock, rather than stand by tradition, she wraps her daughter in a blanket, with a tea cake hidden in her swaddling, and abandons her in the nearest city.

After mother and daughter have gone their separate ways, Li-yan slowly emerges from the security and insularity of her village to encounter modern life while Haley grows up a privileged and well-loved California girl. Despite Haley’s happy home life, she wonders about her origins; and Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. They both search for and find answers in the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for generations.

A powerful story about a family, separated by circumstances, culture, and distance, Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane paints an unforgettable portrait of a little known region and its people and celebrates the bond that connects mothers and daughters.

What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
4 stars
3 stars
2 stars
1 star

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - strandbooks - LibraryThing

I knew nothing about the many ethnic minorities/hill people of China or that the past 20 years the world has been in a huge boom of tea growth similar to wine and coffee. I like that Lisa See spends ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Jessiqa - LibraryThing

A young woman in the Chinese Yunnan province tries to create balance between the traditions of her village and the society of the larger world outside. A Girl adopted from China by white Americans ... Read full review


Section 1
Section 2
Section 3
Section 4
Section 5
Section 6
Section 7
Section 8
Section 12
Section 13
Section 14
Section 15
Section 16
Section 17
Section 18
Section 19

Section 9
Section 10
Section 11
Section 20
Section 21

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2017)

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane A DOG ON THE ROOF
"No coincidence, no story," my a-ma recites, and that seems to settle everything, as it usually does, after First Brother finishes telling us about the dream he had last night. I don''t know how many times my mother has used this praising aphorism during the ten years I''ve been on this earth. I also feel as though I''ve heard versions of First Brother''s dream many times. A poor farmer carries freshly picked turnips to the market town to barter for salt. He takes a misstep and tumbles down a cliff. This could have ended in a "terrible death" far from home--the worst thing that can happen to an Akha person--but instead he lands in the camp of a wealthy salt seller. The salt seller brews tea, the two men start talking, and . . . The coincidence could have been anything: the salt seller will now marry the farmer''s daughter or the farmer''s fall protected him from being washed away in a flood. This time, the farmer was able to trade with the salt seller without having to walk all the way to the market town.

It was a good dream with no bad omens, which pleases everyone seated on the floor around the fire pit. As A-ma said, every story, every dream, every waking minute of our lives is filled with one fateful coincidence after another. People and animals and leaves and fire and rain--we whirl around each other like handfuls of dried rice kernels being tossed into the sky. A single kernel cannot change its direction. It cannot choose to fly to the right or to the left nor can it choose where it lands--balanced on a rock, and therefore salvageable, or bouncing off that same rock into the mud, becoming instantly useless and valueless. Where they alight is fate, and nothing--no thing anyway--can change their destinies.

Second Brother is next in line to tell his dream. It is ordinary. Third Brother recites his dream, which is worse than dull.

A-ba nudges me with his elbow. "Girl, tell us a dream you had last night."

"My dream?" The request surprises me, because neither of my parents has asked this of me before. I''m just a girl. Unimportant, as I''ve been told many times. Why A-ba has chosen this day to single me out, I don''t know, but I hope to be worthy of the attention. "I was walking back to the village after picking tea. It was already dark. I could see smoke rising from household fires. The smell of the food should have made me hungry." (I''m always hungry.) "But my stomach, eyes, arms, and legs were all happy to know I was where I was supposed to be. Our ancestral home." I watch my family''s faces. I want to be honest, but I can''t alarm anyone with the truth.

"What else did you see?" A-ma asks. In our village, power and importance go in this order: the headman; the ruma--the spirit priest--who keeps harmony between spirits and humans; and the nima--the shaman--who has the ability to go into a trance, visit the trees God planted in the spirit world to represent each soul on earth, and then determine which incantations can be used to heal or enhance vitality. These men are followed next by all grandfathers, fathers, and males of any age. My mother is ranked first among women not only in our village but on the entire mountain. She is a midwife and so much more, treating men, women, and children as they pass through their lives. She''s also known for her ability to interpret dreams. The silver balls that decorate her headdress tremble, catching the firelight, as she waits for my response. The others bend their heads over their bowls, nervous for me.

I force myself to speak. "I dreamed of a dog."

Everyone prickles at this revelation.

"We allow dogs to live among us for three reasons," A-ma says reassuringly, trying to settle the family. "They are essential for sacrifices, they alert us to bad omens, and they are good to eat. What kind was yours?"

I hesitate once again. The dog in my dream stood on our roof, alert, his snout pointed upward, his tail erect. To me, he looked as though he were guarding our village, and seeing him made me feel confident that I would make it home safely. But the Akha people believe . . .

A-ma gives me a stern look. "Dogs are not human, but they live in the human world. They are not of the spirit world, but they have the gift of seeing spirits. When you hear a dog howl or bark in the night, you know he has spotted a spirit and hopefully scared him away. Now answer me, Girl," she says, pushing her silver bracelets up her wrist. "What kind was yours?"

"The whole family was sitting outside when the dog began to bark," I say, when I know perfectly well that dreaming of a dog on the roof means that he hasn''t done his job and that a spirit has sneaked past the protection of the village''s spirit gate and is now roaming among us. "He frightened off an evil spirit. A-poe-mi-yeh rewarded him by giving everyone in our family a chicken to eat--"

"Our supreme god gave every man and woman his or her own chicken?" First Brother scoffs.

"And all the children too! Every single person had a whole chicken--"

"That''s impossible! Meaningless! A fabrication!" First Brother looks at A-ba indignantly. "Make her stop--"

"So far I like her dream," A-ba says. "Go on, Girl."

The more pressure I feel to continue my story, the easier it becomes to lie. "I saw birds in a nest. The babies had just broken through their shells. The a-ma bird tapped each one gently with her beak. Tap, tap, tap."

A moment passes as my parents and brothers ponder this addition. As A-ma searches my face, I try to keep my expression as still as a bowl of soy milk left out overnight. Finally, she nods approvingly.

"Counting her babies. New lives. A protecting mother." She smiles. "All is good."

A-ba stands up, signaling that breakfast is done. I''m not sure what''s more troublesome--that A-ma can''t see everything inside my head as I always thought she could or that I''ve gotten away with my fabrications. I feel pretty terrible until I remind myself that I prevented my family from the worry my dream would have caused them. I lift my bowl to my lips and slurp down the last of my broth. A few bitter mountain leaves slip into my mouth along with the fiery liquid. Chili flakes burn their way to my stomach. For as long as that heat lasts, I''ll feel full.

When we leave the house, stars still glitter above our heads. I carry a small basket on my back. My other family members have large baskets slung over their shoulders. Together we walk along the dirt lane that divides Spring Well Village, which has about forty households and nestles in one of the many saddles on Nannuo Mountain. Most of the homes are sheltered by old tea trees. The tea terraces and gardens where we work, however, are outside the village.

We join our neighbors, who live four houses away from us. The youngest daughter, Ci-teh, is my age. I could find my friend anywhere, because her cap is the most decorated of any girl''s in Spring Well. In addition to tea, her family grows pumpkins, cabbages, sugarcane, and cotton. They also cultivate opium, which they sell to the spirit priest to use in ceremonies and to A-ma to use as a medicine for those suffering from the agony of broken bones, the torment of the wasting disease, or the mental anguish that comes from losing a loved one. The extra money Ci-teh''s family earns means they can sacrifice more and larger animals for offerings, which in turn means that the customary shared cuts of meat that are given to everyone in the village are more and larger too. Ci-teh''s family''s wealth also means that her cap is decorated with lots of silver charms. Apart from these differences, Ci-teh and I are like sisters--maybe closer than sisters, because we spend so much time side by side.

As we continue toward our work, we leave the last house behind and proceed a little farther until we reach the spirit gate. Carved figures of a woman and a man are mounted on the posts. The woman has huge breasts. The man has a penis that is as thick as timber bamboo, longer than my entire height, and sticking straight out. Whittled birds of prey and vicious dogs hang from the crossbeam. Be warned. If someone doesn''t pass through the gate properly--touching it perhaps--then something terrible can happen, like a death. We must all be mindful of the gate.

We begin to climb. Ci-teh and I chatter, catching up as though many weeks have passed instead of one night.

"I worked on my embroidery before bed," Ci-teh confides.

"I fell asleep before my a-ba had his pipe," I tell her.

"Hot water or tea with breakfast?"



I don''t want to tell her any of that. We have a long way to go and the only other way to make the time pass quickly is through games and challenges.

"How many different parasites can you spot on the trees before we get to that boulder?" I hoot.

Nine, and I win.

"How are you doing with your weaving?" Ci-teh asks, knowing I haven''t shown a talent for it.

"So boring!" I holler, and the men look back at me disapprovingly. "Let''s see how many jumps it will take from this rock to that one way up there."

Seven, and I win again.

"Last night, Deh-ja"--that would be Ci-teh''s sister-in-law--"said she wants to have a son."

"There''s nothing new with that one." I point to a little rise. "Bet I can beat you to the top."

My feet know this route well, and I h

Bibliographic information