In this rich narrative, See showcases the Akha people, a Chinese ethnic minority and its main female character Li-yan, one of the story’s many strong female characters. The intelligent and determined daughter of the village’s medicine woman, the young mother falls in love with San-pa who sadly becomes addicted to opium. Forced to give her newborn daughter up for adoption – to save the child’s life – Li-yan embarks upon a path to set things right.
Regret steers Li-yan through a life simultaneously breaking and respecting traditions in cities far beyond her birth mountain village. Education, perseverance, hard-work and a little bit of luck grants Li-yan once-in-a-lifetime opportunities in business and romance. Li-yan never forgets her heritage and never stops searching for her daughter, not even after discovering that she had been adopted by an American couple.
And vice versa. Haley, Li-yan’s daughter, grown to be a California-bred scientist, never stops wondering about her cultural heritage. Fate determines the outcome of these formidable female characters.
This captivating story about a family, spliced by circumstance, culture, and continents, also exposes a world tucked in by mountains, distant from everything modern. Readers learn more than one would ever expect to know about tea, including how cultures view its medicinal and spiritual aspects. One character, Tea Master Sun, teaches Li-yan the practical and spiritual elements of tea. According to Tea Master Sun, Confucius taught his followers that tea helped with “understanding.” Buddhists bestowed tea with spiritual qualities ranking it among “four ways to concentrate the mind.” And Daoists viewed tea as a “way to regulate internal alchemy, be in harmony with the natural world, and serve as an ingredient in the elixir or mortality.”
See writes about unique tea flavors, their medicinal and metaphysical qualities along with teas’ financial values. Pure teas, aged teas, and properly fermented teas are described as worth their weight in gold. Tea, in all of its properties and flavors, is a fascinating read.
Lisa See is no stranger to success in celebrating her ethnicity. See’s Chinese great-grandfather migrated to Los Angeles to build the transcontinental railroad. Noted as the godfather and patriarch of Los Angeles Chinatown, See was raised in a “very large Chinese-American family, although I don’t look Chinese.” The bi-cultural author is quoted as saying, “I straddle two cultures.” Opening doors for the non-Chinese into the Chinese culture, See writes about life, love, regret, greed, jealousy and success. “The Tea of Hummingbird Lane” includes all of these elements and more.
See’s accolades run the gamut. In June 2000, she authored the libretto for the opera “On Gold Mountain,” based on her bestseller of the same name. She also curated “On Gold Mountain: A Chinese American Experience” at the Autry Museum and designed the companion guidebook for Angels Walk L.A. for the opening of the Mass Transit Authority’s Chinatown Station. As a trustee on the University of California Press Foundation, See endowed a Lisa See Endowment Fund in Southern California in History and Culture.
In 2001, See was honored as the National Woman of the Year by the Chinese American Women Organization. In 2003, she received the Chinese American Museum's History Makers Award. See has several New York Times bestselling accolades including “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” “Peony in Love,” “Shanghai Girls,” “China Dolls,” and “Dreams of Joy.”