This enchanting book is the story of Li-yan, a Chinese girl, more specifically an Akha (an ethnic minority). Li-Yan grows up in a remote Yunnan Village in the mountains of China. The Akha are a very backward people who follow archaic traditions and rituals. It is a male dominant village where everyone farms tea. Women are second-class citizens and are treated as such.
Li-yan’s mother is the healer/medicine woman in the village. Although she sticks with traditions when the men are present, she surprises you with some of her decisions when alone. She helps Li-yan hide her out-of-wedlock pregnancy and allows her to give the baby to an orphanage, which is against tradition. Li-Yan leaves her daughter at the orphanage door with a cake of tea from her village. Li-yan misses her daughter and longs to know what happened to her.
Li-yan’s daughter is adopted by a couple from California and is named Haley. Even though Haley has a wonderful life in California, she wonders about the teacake hidden in her blanket and the mother behind it.
Li-yan is allowed to go to school and get an education so she can use her English to help translate for strangers coming to the village seeking tea. Li-yan is the first to travel outside of her village and quickly learns to reject many Akha traditions. She becomes a respected businesswoman in the male dominated tea trade business.
Through Li-yan’s story you learn about the importance of tea to the Chinese, its history, traditions, and details about the farming/harvesting process. The novel also informs about the political changes that the 20th century brought to China, and how these changes affected even the remote Yunnan Valley and Akha people.
Readers will grow to love Li-yan and her mother, A-ma. These strong women characters stand up for themselves in a male dominant country. You’ll find yourself cheering them on as they journey through many struggles, set backs and finally successes.
“The Teabird of Hummingbird Lane,” focuses on relationships between mothers and daughters. It was an excellent read that I couldn’t put down.