When I chose The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane for our book club, I was hoping for a crowd-pleaser – a popular author and a diverse story that opens our eyes to a different culture. I was not disappointed. Lisa See has written much about the Chinese-American side of her family and is the author of such best-selling novels as Shanghai Girls, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and China Dolls. She includes on her website information about her research into The Tea Girl story with pictures and videos of the people and the countryside she describes.
The majority of our members seemed to really like the book, despite the fact that several had quit reading for a while after the murder of the twin babies. One member actually thinks it might be her favorite book club read so far! Even acknowledging that some of the coincidences seemed contrived, we accepted the happy ending and discussed our fascination with different aspects of the story. How true do we think the story is? Do the Akha people really encourage youth sexual encounters as described in the book? Why was their zodiac sign so important[i]that they would have to leave their community? What if the book had been told through the male A-ba’s perspective? One of us particularly liked the way the author told Haley’s story through doctors’ notes and letters. We seemed to agree that the novel was easy to read. Another member recommended the audio book, which used four different readers.
Of course, the book was not the favorite of everyone. One of us said that his interest in tea was only one on a scale of one to ten! Too much talk about tea! We looked at some of the pictures on Lisa See’s website and we had some tea bags of Pu’er tea for people to sample at home. One of us had a friend who regularly buys high-quality tea from China and let her try some Pu’er tea (loose-leaf—not bagged). She said it was delicious and markedly not bitter. Another member shared a remarkable experience she had when she and her daughter were invited to a Buddhist tea ceremony. She still seemed awed.
We touched on immigration, biodiversity, bathroom integration in the South, the Trash queen of Asia, and adoption. I was particularly moved when one of us, a mother of two adopted children, asked why people consider how a child’s life was improved by adoption, as if there aren’t myriad things that could change any person’s life. I never fail to be amazed by the diversity of experiences and viewpoints that enrich me through the book club selections and our discussions.
- Other works discussed:
- Call the Midwife(2002) Jennifer Worth
- Digging to America(2006) Anne Tyler
[i]This short Ted Talk gives an interesting explanation of the Chinese Zodiac and its importance: https://www.ted.com/talks/shaolan_the_chinese_zodiac_explained