Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea as well as strict Akha traditions and superstitions. There is ritual and routine, and it has been ever this way for generations. Then one day a jeep appears at the village gate—the first automobile any of them have seen—and a stranger arrives.
Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, translates for the stranger. 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.
This is the defining moment of Li-yan's life. While she attempts to adhere to tradition and some semblance of 'normal' happiness, fate intervenes and leads her on a dynamic journey beyond her village and into the modern world. Her narrative is intertwined with vignettes regarding the adolescence of her daughter and the beautifully written way in which tea binds them together.
I was mesmerized by the story, especially the harshness of the traditional rituals observed by the Akha and Li-yan's slow metamorphosis as she attempts to honor her origins but embrace the modern world and many of its practices. This is a compelling story not only of culture but of love, family, identity and responsibility.
While the ending is beautiful and more than fulfilling, I found myself not wanting the story of these two women to end. I wholeheartedly recommend the audio as narrated by Ruthie Ann Miles and Kimiko Glenn. Their performances are truly engaging.
Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars