Rating: 5 / 5 stars
Lisa See returns to share the customs of another Chinese ethnic minority, the Akha in the Yunnan province. Li-yan, her family, are all tea farmers. Their people have lived and died by the farming of tea for generations. It is not until one day a stranger arrives in a car (the first one the Akha people have seen) that their lives change. Li-yan has received some schooling thanks to a teacher sent by the Communist government years ago to educate the people and with that schooling was able to serve as a translator for the stranger. It gives her a glimmer of hope for her future as she was satisfied with her certain future as a midwife. The stranger offers her and her village a more prosperous future through the growing of a certain kind of tea he claims is worth a lot of money.
Unfortunately, Li-yan’s hope for a better education are dashed when an encounter with a young man changes her life. This sets in motion the second half of the story, wherein a Chinese girl is raised by white American parents in southern California. The adopted child wonders about her biological parents. All she has from them is a tea cake with a design on it that she cannot decipher.
As always, See writes an engaging tale. I myself was particularly invested in the young girl’s part of the story. My K-12 schooling took place in one of the cities mentioned during her tale and I recognized everything she talked about. I’m not adopted nor am I Chinese (only half Taiwanese) but I understood her feelings about many things. Frankly, if she were real she definitely could have been one of my classmates.