I’m not sure how to rate this book. It is an undoubtedly a good book with a lot of heart. But did I enjoy it? That’s a bit harder to answer. I definitely enjoyed about the last quarter. The first three was more difficult for me. It was all very harrowing and very real. (It probably says more about me than the book.) The thing is that Li-Yen, the protagonist, is likable and I kept reading to find out what happens next. She is brave and intelligent, but makes young and foolish mistakes, which only makes her more endearing.
There are some disagreeable cultural practices at the beginning that made it hard for me to relate to the book at first. But because of Li-Yen I was able to carry on reading and follow her story as she goes from a young girl to a grown woman and a mother. At times it reminded me of the saying about car crashes and not being able to look away.
It was fascinating to read about the Akha, a culture I know next to nothing about, and seeing the world from their point of view. Tea is an integral part and all the traditions that go with growing, drinking and selling it. We are told the rich history and the struggles of the tea farmers, but also the modern tea drinking culture in the cities.
On a big side note: It’s recently been said that a reader cannot fully appreciate a book if you are not part of the culture that it’s written for. Although that might be true it is also sad. How else are we supposed to learn and see things from other people’s point of view? If a book is strong enough it should be able to make its point no matter who’s reading it. Shouldn’t? Or should we step back and accept that it’s not meant for us? But then it will be said that we are knobbling the book by not giving it the attention it deserves. Ah, a catch twenty-two. I would like to think that everyone should be able to read everything. I’m sorry if anyone is offended by my words or how off the rails this review has gone.
But back on track: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane does not have this difficulty. Lisa See’s point is to teach her readers about China by telling a remarkable story. I definitely learned new things from this book. The more time goes by after reading, the fonder I’ve become of it.
The writing was excellent (although I could have gone without sex being called “The Intercourse”). Most importantly it had a great sense of warmth. I don’t ever want to read it again, but I know that it with stick with me in some part of my brain for many years to come.