The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

Lisa See

3.5

 

 

Li-yan lives in Yunnan, China and is a member of the Akha tribe. The tribe is remote from the rest of China. It still follows the rituals and traditions that the Akha have followed for hundreds of year. She resides in Spring Well Village located on the tea mountain of Nannou. Her home is made of bamboo and thatch, built on stilts providing an area for any livestock they have. There is the main residence along with three newlywed huts for her brothers and their wives. Li-yan is the only girl. The entire family rise early and after their family breakfast, walk for two hours into the mountain to pick tea leaves from the tiers that they own. When they are finished picking, they take their leaves to the tea market for sale. On this particular day, they arrive too late to sell their leaves. A-ma is Li-yan’s mother and A-ba is her father. While there, Li-yan spots a boy behind a wall of tea. She finds him eating a pancake and offers her a bite. She takes one and they exchange names. His name is San-pa. A woman screams “Thieves “and yanks both of them out from behind the wall. She has had trouble with San-pa before. A-ba insists on paying for the pancake. He pays with the few coins that they made today. Li-yan’s and San-pa’s family both adhere to Akha Law. They both will have to have a cleansing ceremony. They cannot have it together as San-pa was born on the day of the tiger and Li-yan was born on the day of the pig. The two must never be friends or marry as tiger eats pig. The family makes it back to the village. A ruma comes to perform the ceremony that will take place outside and attended by the entire village. The ruma is an intermediary between the spirit worlds. At the end of the ceremony, Li-yan’s family has to sacrifice a chicken, another loss of the family caused by Li-yan.

 

Li-yan’s best friend is Ci-the. Her older brother Ci-do is married to Deh-ja. They are expecting their first child. A-ma, is the village midwife and healer. She uses her tea and herbs when treating the villagers.  When Deh-ha goes into labor, Ci-do fetches A-ma. A-ma is expecting Li-yan to help her and later become a midwife as well. After the baby is delivered, Deh-ha delivers another baby, twins. It is Ahab Law that twins are human rejects and must be taken into the woods to be killed by the father. The parents then must leave the village for bringing shame and bad spirits to the village. Ci-do and Deh-ha leave.

 

Li-yan sister-in-laws criticize her needlepoint telling her that she will not have much to offer for a dowry. A-ma tells L-yan to grab her cloak and to follow A-ma. They walk and climb high up into the mountain until they reach a boulder that is tricky to walk around. They come across a very secluded grove of camphor trees. As she steps inside, she sees about a dozen old tea trees. A-ma explains that the land; the trees have been in the women line of her family for thirty-three generations and the mother tree has been there for one hundred generations or three thousand years. It will be Li-yan’s dowry when she marries. The tree is covered with yellow threads that appear to be parasites and mold. A-ma explains to her that they are what make the tea so powerful against diseases and sickness. A-ma tells Li-yan never to tell or show anyone this sacred, secret place. The family continues to pick tea leaves from their tiers but no one, only A-ma and now Li-yan, know about these tea trees. They are for their own personal use, never be mentioned or sold to anyone else.

 

Li-yan and Ci-the attend school together. A-ba was against sending his daughter to school. Teacher Zhang convinced the village leaders: the headman, ruma, and nima, to allow her to go to school as it will bring honor to the village and inspire other children. Li-yan studies hard for two years while continuing to do her chores and pick tea. Now twelve, she enters the second-level school. Many different languages are spoken. There is only one other student that is Akha, San-pa. The two will go through the next few years in school together.

 

 When Li-yan and Ci-the turn sixteen, a ceremony is performed where they exchange one headdress for another more suitable to their age. Boys attend and the girls are encouraged to go into the forest with a boy. San-pa appears and slips off with Li-yan, ignoring that they are not to be together as it can only be bad for all concerned.

 

Mr. Huang and his son come to the village in search of Pu’er tea. He lives in Hong Kong and buys Pu’er tea to sell to others. It is a high monetary commodity around the world. He speaks mandarin and Li-yan translates. He wants to buy their Pu’er tea which come from the very old tea trees. The leaves are aged and processed a certain way. He offers to buy their tea leaves at a much higher price than Li-yan offers. He will teach them his process. For three months, the villagers pick and process the leaves under Mr. Huang’s supervision.  Mr. Huang hears about A-ma’s special grove or tea. Every day he asks Li-yan for just a few leaves. He will pay her for them. She sneaks off to the grove, picks a few leaves, and makes them into tea cakes. He pays her much more than she expected. Although she feels guilty about her deceit, she is only thinking of how the money will help her and San-pa in the future. Li-yan is to head off to University but decides not to go so that she can continue to earn money for her and San-pa’s future.

 

While San-pa is away, Li-yan discovers that she is pregnant. A-ma and Li-yan head to their tea grove where Li-yan gives birth to a daughter. It is Akha way that when a child is born to an unwed mother, the mother must kill and bury the baby. A-ma tells Li-yan that this is what she must do. Now that the baby is here though, A-ma tells Li-yan that she can take the baby to an orphanage. She gives Li-yan two tea cakes, wrapped in the groves special paper, to be left with the child.

 

The story continues with Li-yan and San-pa’s reuniting and travels, Li-yan’s return, her acceptance into trade school, and finally, into the Yunnan Agricultural University. They are opening a Pu’er Tea College. It will be the first one opened in the world. They are offering two tracks, one as a tea master, and the other as a tea evaluator. It is there that two men, unbeknownst to Li-yan, will have a direct influence in her future.

 

Li-yan’s daughter is adopted by a couple in Los Angeles, California. They name her Haley Davis. Haley goes to school with other Chinese children, some adopted, and others whose parents or generations before came to California. Haley wants to learn more about her birth mother and why she was left at the orphanage. She has her two tea cakes as the only link to her birth mother. As she gets older and becomes involved in her own studies, she sets off to find the answers.

 

This story has many storylines and themes. There is the Akha tribe with its rituals, customs, and beliefs.  The history of tea, where it grows, picked, dried, and processed. The different methods in preparing teas. The history of the Pu’er tea, its taste, and its place in the world market. Chinese adoptions in the United States, the effects of living in a country not originally their own, the need to find where they came from, and why they were left at the orphanage.

 

Lisa See’s book brings everything together in an amazing story.

 

Chances Are

Richard Russo

3.5

 

 

 

Lincoln Moser grew up in Dunbar, Arizona. He is an only child.  His father, Wolfgang Amadeus Moser, is part owner of a mining company. His mother originally grew up in the East in town called Wellesly. Her parents were well off and owned a small house in Chilmark on the island of Martha Vineyard. When she a senior in college, her parents died in a car crash. She moved to Tucson, Arizona to live with her aunt. Her parents had left her money in a trust along with ownership of the cabin. The money would be available when she was 21. She married Wolfgang, aka Dubyay who convinced her to move to Dunbar. When it comes time for Lincoln to go to college, his father insists that he go to the University in Arizona. His mom refuses. She wants him to go to Minerva College where she went. This takes both Lincoln and Dubyay by surprise because his mom never stands up to Dubyay. She has always been meek and domineered by Dubyay. She tells Lincoln the truth about her family. She tells him that all of the trips and nice purchases they had was because she paid for them. She tells Lincoln about the cabin and that it will be his one day. She asks him to promise never to sell it. Dubyay had tried many times to convince her to sell, but she refused. Lincoln goes to Minerva.

 

Mickey Girardi is the youngest of eight children and the only boy. He is from Westhaven, Connecticut. He is of Irish/Italian decent and grew up in a working class, rough neighborhood. Mickey bought his first guitar and started a band. When it comes time to go to college, he tells his father he want to go to Minerva College to study music. His dad tells him to make his mother proud.

 

Teddy Novak is an only child and lives in the Midwest. His parents are both English teachers. The pay no attention to Teddy as they need to make plans for their students during all their spare time. They believe Teddy is fine since he is always off reading by himself. They are unaware of what Teddy faces in school. He is bullied and made fun of in gym class. Once in high school, Teddy realizes that he enjoys playing basketball and is very good. The coach notices that Teddy needs toughening up so he has another player jab at Teddy when he goes in for shots. One of those jabs knocks Teddy to the floor, causing a hairline fracture on his vertebrate. Teddy can no longer play. Teddy read a book written by Tom Merton, a Trappist Monk. He feels that many suitable for him. First, he needs to get his education. He chooses Minerva College.

 

Jacy Calloway is the daughter of Donald and Vivian Calloway. When Jacy is in eighth grade, she goes on a date. The boy asks her when she knew that she was adopted. The reason he asks is that she does not resemble her parents. Her father calls her “our little gypsy” because she has brown curly hair and olive complexion. She goes home and searches her house for evidence. She finds her birth certificate and everything looks normal. She confronts her mother who does not deny it. When Jacy asks who her father is, her mother tells her that it does not matter, he is dead. From then on, Jacy calls her parents by their first names, Don and Viv. Jacy is engaged to Vance, who she has known since childhood. Their parents have been friends for years and are members of the same country club. Jacy and Vance’s future marriage has been predestined for just as long. Jacy attends Minerva College. She is a member of the Theta Sorority and resides in the sorority house.

 

Lincoln, Mickey, and Teddy are on scholarship at the college. They shared a freshmen dorm suite and now continue as roommates. All three work in the kitchen of the Theta Sorority House. Mickey is the dishwasher; Teddy helps the chef with salads, dessert, and plating, while Lincoln serves the meals to the dining room. The kitchen help are known as hashers. Jacy likes to go back into the kitchen to flirt and hang out with them. Lincoln is dating Anita, a sorority girl. On December 1, 1969, all the hashers, Jacy, and Anita, sit in the kitchen to listen to the radio. They are waiting to hear the first draft lottery. The birthdate determines your number in the draft. Mickey’s birthdate is ninth. This hits the group hard. He will be drafted. As more dates are announced, other people in the kitchen and house begin to leave. Lincoln’s date is one hundred eighty-nine. There will be a slight chance that he will have to go. Teddy’s birthdate is number three hundred twenty-two. He will not be going. Jacy told Mickey that he cannot go. He needs to go to Canada until the war is over. Mickey knew that he could not do that. His father would not like that. He had to make his mother proud.

 

After graduation, the four decide to spend for the last weekend at Lincoln’s cabin before heading to their individual futures. On the last day, Jacy leaves in the early morning. She leaves a note saying that she hates saying goodbye. No one hears from Jacy after that. It is if she has disappeared.

 

The book starts in the year 2015. It is now forty years later. Lincoln is back in Chilmark, hoping to sell the house in order to recoup losses he had during the recession. He is now a real estate investor and resides in Las Vegas with his wife Anita. He invites his friends Teddy and Mickey to join him. They have not seen each other in years and it will be the last chance they have to be together as they once were, all those years ago. Of course, the one topic of discussion is what happened to Jacy Calloway? Lincoln is determined to find the truth while he is there. The story begins.

 

 

The Dutch House

Ann Patchett

3

 

 

Mr. and Mrs. VanHoebeek built the Dutch House in 1922. A large painting of the couple hung in the main living room. The house was located in the country outside the city of Philadelphia. It is now known as Elkins Park.  After Mr. VanHoebeek passed away, his wife remained in the house with only their caretaker, Fiona, known to all as Fluffy. Fluffy resided in the garage apartment where she had grown up helping her parents, who worked for the couple. After the death of Mrs. VanHoebeek, Fluffy remained to check the main house from time to time. In 1946, Cyril Conroy bought the house for his family. The house included all of the VanHoebeek’s possessions. The day Cyril brought his wife Elna, ten year old daughter Maeve, and three year old son, Danny to the house, he announced to his wife that this was now their home. He bought it for them.

 

Elna was not comfortable being in the house. With so many poor people in the world without food and shelter, the house represented opulence. She had been living in a convent when Cyril had returned from being away and insisted that they marry. They had scraped by for years and now they have a house such as this? Elna tells Cyril that she is leaving him. She is moving to India where she can help the poor and needy.  It did not matter that she had two children who needed their mother. They had the staff. Fluffy was the children’s nanny, and sisters, Sandy, and Jocelyn, did the cooking and cleaning. Now that she is gone, Maeve misses her mother terribly. Danny being young, does not have many memories of her. After Elna leaves, Maeve becomes extremely sick and is diagnosed with diabetes.

 

Cyril makes his money in real estate. He has several rental buildings and once a month, he takes Danny with him to collect the rent. In the beginning, Elna would go with Cyril. She would notice that an apartment was in need of repair or that the renter was poor and did not have the money for the rent. Elna would tell them not to worry and that she would take care of that. After that, Cyril would not take Elna with him. Cyril begins taking Danny with him. Danny loves this time he is able to spend with his dad. He learns the business from his father and in the summer, he learns how to make repairs on the various buildings. He plans to join his father’s business someday.

 

When Cyril is forty-nine, he brings home a young woman, Andrea. Andrea, thirty-one, has two children of her own. Norma is three years younger than Danny and Bright is five years younger. Andrea loves the Dutch House. Cyril once said that Andrea married him because she loved the house, not him. They do not have a happy marriage. The two young girls love Maeve and Danny. Andrea does not. When Maeve leaves for college in New York City, Andrea has her two daughters move into Maeve’s room. When Maeve comes home for break, she finds that her belongings are now in the third floor attic/bedroom. Cyril injured one of his legs in the war and now walks with a limp. He has difficulty walking and it is painful. It is very difficult and painful to go up and down the stairs. When Maeve graduates from college, she returns to Elkins Park and rents her own apartment. She works for a frozen vegetable plant distributor as the accountant.

 

In 1963, Danny is fifteen. He and Maeve receive a call from the hospital. They were the contact on their father’s records. Cyril has had a heart attack, falling down a flight of stairs in one of his unfinished buildings. When they arrive at the hospital, they arrange for their father’s burial to be in the Catholic Cemetery. The Conroy family is Catholic but Andrea is Protestant. Andrea is furious at Maeve and Danny for not notifying her after they were at the hospital and that they made burial arrangements without her. Maeve and Danny offer to run the Conroy business since Maeve has experience in accounting and Danny has the experience from working with his father. Andrea refuses. Maeve and Danny find out from the family lawyer that Cyril has left everything to Andrea. When Andrea and Cyril married, she had Cyril put her name on everything he owned. Cyril did set up a trust for Danny and Maeve’s education. Andrea tells Danny that he has to leave the house and live with Maeve. Andrea sells the business and fires the entire staff; Fluffy, Jocelyn, and Sandy.

 

Danny leaves for boarding school, paid for by the trust. When Danny comes home on vacation, he lives with Maeve. Maeve and Danny begin a ritual of driving to the Dutch House, parking on the street in front of the house, and talking. This ritual will continue for several years. Maeve is determined to spend as much as her father’s money as she can. She convinces Danny to go to medical school. He does not want to be a doctor, but alas, he is. While in college, he meets a girl on the train. Her name is Celeste Norcross. He and Celeste will have an on and off again relationship ending in marriage. She wants him to be a doctor, he wants to buy and renovate buildings.

 

The story continues with Danny, the narrator of this story, caught in the middle of the relationship between him, Celeste, and Maeve. His heart and alliance is with his sister. Her health is fragile and Danny has felt responsible for her since he was just a small boy. A return from the past enters their lives and changes everything.