In a remote mountain village, the survival of an Akha tribe, one of China's 55 ethnic minorities, depends on tea. Rigid traditions prohibit Li-yan from keeping her newborn. She saves her daughter by leaving her in a nearby town, wrapped in blankets with a tea cake that hints at her distinctive heritage. Over the course of decades, See (China Dolls, 2014) reveals Li-yan's exceptional story of departure and eventual return. Interspersed with Li-yan's peripatetic experiences are those of her daughter, the titular tea girl, divulged by medical reports, letters, even the transcript of a group therapy session for adopted Chinese teens. See, herself partly of Chinese ancestry, creates a complex narrative that ambitiously includes China's political and economic transformation, little-known cultural history, the intricate challenges of transracial adoption, and an insightful overview of the global implications of specialized teas. The only possible flaw is that some may consider her magic-wand ending unbelievable. As this is her first book since losing her own mother, bestselling author Carolyn See (to whom it is dedicated), See's focus on the unbreakable bonds between mothers and daughters, by birth and by circumstance, becomes an extraordinary homage to unconditional love. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Bestselling See's latest will be vigorously promoted on all platforms as she meets readers on a 10-city tour.--Hong, Terry
Li-Yan is the youngest daughter of an Ahka family near Nannuo Mountain in China in 1949. She tries to follow Ahka law, the rules set forth by the beliefs of this ethnic minority, but at every turn she seems to find herself doing the opposite: An Ahka girl must obey and learn from her mother, but Li-Yan studies hard at a modern school. Although an Ahka girl should not speak to men, when foreigners arrive from Hong Kong in search of a renowned, aged tea called Pu'er, Li-Yan is the only one who can translate. If an Ahka girl gets pregnant, she must marry the boy, but when Li-Yan gives birth, the father is gone. And, according to Ahka law, a child born outside of marriage must be killed. But Li-Yan cannot bring herself to do it. Instead, she leaves her daughter at the doorstep of an orphanage. While Li-Yan matures into a successful tea master, the daughter, Haley, is adopted into a white American family in Los Angeles, and her existence is revealed in sporadic letters, school reports, and, later, emails. These sections capture both Haley's desire to fully integrate into her adopted family and her curiosity and heartache about her mother and the only clue she left behind: a tea cake. With vivid and precise details about tea and life in rural China, Li-Yan's gripping journey to find her daughter comes alive. (Mar.)
The adage, "No coincidence, no story," from China's Akha minority serves as the backbone for this latest offering from See (Shanghai Girls). Coincidences abound in this illuminating novel that contributes historical and social insight into the Akhas, an animistic people who lived modestly and virtually untouched by modernity in the mountains of China, and tea production in an increasingly globalized world. A growing taste for pu'er, a rare tea, has led entrepreneurs to seek out the ancient crop cultivated in remote Yunnan. Li-Yan, the intelligent but rash daughter of a village midwife, serves as the link between one such entrepreneur and her people, transforming their way of life. Against tradition, she later bears a daughter out of wedlock and gives up the child for adoption at her mother's urging. Banished and broken, Li-Yan tries to navigate modern Chinese life while her daughter is raised by loving Caucasian parents in an upper middle-class California home. Neither time nor distance can vanquish their yearning to be reunited. VERDICT With strong female characters, See deftly confronts the changing role of minority women, majority-minority relations, East-West adoption, and the economy of tea in modern China. Fans of See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan will appreciate this novel. [See Prepub Alert, 9/26/16.]-Suzanne Im, Los Angeles P.L.
A woman from the Akha tribe of China's Yunnan province becomes a tea entrepreneur as her daughter grows up in California. See explores another facet of Chinese culture, one that readers may find obscure but intriguing. Li-Yan, the only daughter of a tea-growing family, is a child of the Akha "ethnic minority," as groups in China who are not of the Han majority are known. The Akha are governed by their beliefs in spirits, cleansing rituals, taboos, and the dictates of village shamans. As a teenager, circa 1988, Li-Yan witnesses the death of newborn twins, killed by their father as custom requires, because the Akha consider twin-ship a birth defect: such infants are branded "human rejects." The Akha, inhabiting rugged, inaccessible terrain, have avoided the full brunt of China's experiments in social engineering, including the Great Leap Forward and its resultant famine, the Cultural Revolution, and the One Child policy. Li-Yan's family harvests mostly from wild tea trees as opposed to terraced bushes, and their product is discovered by a connoisseur, Huang, who will alter Li-Yan's destiny. The Akha encourage youthful sexual experimentation, but progeny outside marriage are automatically "rejects." So when Li-Yan discovers she is pregnant by her absent fiancé, San-pa, she hides, with her mother's help, in the secret grove of ancient tea trees which is her birthright. After the infant is born, Li-Yan journeys on foot to a town where she gives up her child. Over the next 20 years, we follow Li-Yan as she marries and is widowed, escapes her village, becomes a tea seller, and marries a wealthy recycling mogul, Jin. The couple moves to Pasadena. Intermittent dispatches inform readers that, unbeknownst to Li-Yan, her daughter, named Haley by her adoptive parents, is also in Pasadena. Haley's challenges as a privileged American daughter pale in contrast to Li-Yan's far more elemental concerns. Although representing exhaustive research on See's part, and certainly engrossing, the extensive elucidation of international adoption, tea arcana, and Akha lore threatens to overwhelm the human drama. Still, a riveting exercise in fictional anthropology. (Reviewed on Dec. 26, 2016)