With a steaming cup of chai tea, a yummy Date Bar and a slice of freshly baked date bread, I think I’m starting the new year out right! And I just had a book club meeting… what could be better than that?!
My Volunteer Book Group met yesterday to discuss The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See, and it was a resounding success! A number of years ago, we read another book by this author, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, about two young girls who form a friendship but who, due to class and circumstances, cannot continue being friends. They manage to remain in contact using Nüshu, a language developed exclusively for women in a southern province in China. I usually try to choose books by different authors each year, as there are so many great books out there, but Hummingbird Lane was a popular book club selection when I was checking online, and I’m glad I added it to our list. This book follows Li-yan, a young girl in the Akha ethnic minority in the mountains of China, over several decades of her life, beginning at age eight, when she is helping her parents and her village people pick tea leaves in a remote area on the mountainside. Although it begins in 1988, the opening scenes have the atmosphere of a book set in 1888, with the picking process, the method of travel, and the superstitions and traditions that guide the village people seeming primitive to the extreme. Li-yan has the opportunity to continue her education, but of course love always gets in the way for young women in fiction, and this alters the course of her journey. Several life-changing events occur, including the birth of a daughter, whom she leaves on the steps of an orphanage, and we follow as she makes her way from girlhood to middle-age, always haunted by her life choices and decisions. Interspersed with Li-yan’s story are chapters offering information about Haley, Li-yan’s daughter, adopted by an American couple living in California. One of my members said she loved this book from the first page to the last, which, she noted, doesn’t usually happen. We all felt that we learned much about tea, the recent history in China, Chinese ethnic minorities, Chinese ways of life, and the challenges faced by Chinese girls adopted by American parents. There was so much to discuss about this book, and we tried to touch briefly on the major themes: ethnic minorities’ struggles to maintain their culture and traditions while also facing pressure to modernize; tea making and the importance of fair trade; friendship, love and relationships; and the challenges of being adopted by and living in a culture that is not your own. See did an awesome job of making us feel at once hopeful that the Akha people would be able to hold onto their traditions and also hopeful that they would let some of their superstitions go. We were enlightened by Haley’s struggles, and were able to suspend our sense of disbelief, for the sake of moving the story along, when one too many coincidences occurred. We thought the language and the descriptions were wonderful, and the characters fully developed. I can only hope that the rest of the year’s book club selections meet the level of enthusiasm that this one did.
That’s all for today. I’m going out for a long walk to enjoy the clear, mild, sunny day. Don’t forget to make time to read! Happy 2019!!
Bye for now…