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. 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.
The sometimes brutal customs of the Akha people are hard to read. Li-yan was willful in her youth and believes that she had brought shame on herself and her family by going against them and in doing, breaking the customs of her people. When she has gone on to further educate herself and eventually finds love she eventually learns to forgive herself but has never forgotten the daughter she had to give up.
Haley has always felt the shadow of her birth mother hover over her. She believes that the sorrow she has carried around is the loss of her mother. Haley also grows up with a love and intimate knowledge about tea. The tea cake she was left with has always fascinated her and thinks it is a ‘map’ of sorts to finding out where she comes from. She ends up going to university and makes the study of the health benefits of tea one of her majors taking her deeper into the world of tea.
The depth knowledge of how tea is grown, aged and sold is fascinating and I don’t even like tea. I can’t even begin to imagine just how much time and research went into the writing of this book. Lisa writes about a deep sorrow and as well as a deep yearning to find the truth. I loved how Haley shows up in later chapters, how her character feels so alone at times and yearns to find out not only who she is but where she comes from. The winding the two stories together is wonderful. The descriptiveness of the village is just so that you can visualise it. The way she writes and how she weaves the stories of the characters that bind them all together is truly wonderful.
Lisa See knows how to weave a story into a beautiful and intricate tapestry and this book is no exception! It’s an amazing book and one I highly recommend!
ARC provided by Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review
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