Lisa See Recommends Books on China, Talks Enduring Characters

Posted by Cybil on March 20, 2017

When The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane begins in 1988, Li-Yan and her family work as tea pickers in Spring Well, a village in the Yunnan province of China populated by the Akha people. Spring Well has no running water, no electricity, and has only ever seen one car. Over the next 25 years, with the skyrocketing popularity of Pu'er tea, everything changed.

Pu'er is a rare tea made from the leaves of tea trees in the Yunnan province, some of which are thought to be thousands of years old. As the most educated girl in the village, Li-Yan finds herself at the center of her village's new relationship with tea exporters, a path that will take her far away from the village she never thought she'd leave, all while hiding her own painful secrets.

Author Lisa See is known for the extensive research and rich detail she puts into her bestselling novels set in China, including Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love. Goodreads spoke to See about helping her readers discover China and how her characters stay with her. The following is an excerpt from our full interview that appeared in our March newsletter.

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GR: Goodreads user Elizabeth asks: I'm interested in learning about Chinese culture and history as a result of reading your books. What other books (fiction or nonfiction) would you recommend to get a better understanding of China?

LS: Peter Hessler went over to China as an English teacher and lived in a little river town along the Yangtze. The book he wrote about it, River Town, is charming, but he's also written several others that are really great.

Nicholas Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, have written several good books about China—they were New York Times correspondents in China together.

Simon Winchester went to the very source of the Yangtze River and then followed it down to the mouth of the river. His book The River at the Center of the World is sort of a history of the river, what's along the river, and how life is changing there, and it's fantastic.

GR: Goodreads user Michele asks: Once you complete a book, do you find it challenging to move on from the characters you have so thoroughly cultivated in order to create your next work, or do some characters continue to occupy your consciousness long after the book is finished?

LS: Absolutely. I don't think of it as my moving on; it's more like they move on. I hate to say it, because it makes me sound like a crazy person, but there are times when I'll be out doing something and I can hear Lily say something to me, or Pearl, or A-ma. They'll talk to me—the ones from the past, but also the ones I'm currently working on. They'll kind of crop up like, "By the way, I'm still here."

Read the full interview with See here. Missing out on our newsletters? Be sure to sign up!

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Comments Showing 1-8 of 8 (8 new)

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message 1: by BookishGal29 (new)

BookishGal29 Great article! I have always been interested in China (more so now that it is becoming a world power) and you I will definitely look into some of these titles. Thanks so much!


message 2: by Biblio (new)

Biblio Curious I'm very excited to read her new book! Lisa See's a fabulous contemporary author.

message 3: by Rick (new)

Rick One should read Pearl S. Buck's novels to learn about China 100 years ago.

message 4: by BookishGal29 (new)

BookishGal29 Rick wrote: "One should read Pearl S. Buck's novels to learn about China 100 years ago."

Great idea! You can never go wrong with a classic. :)

message 5: by PinkPanthress (last edited Mar 20, 2017 06:31PM) (new)

PinkPanthress I was positively surprised that despite being chinese of only a small percentage, the Author seems to know about her heritage & the culture linked to it.

message 6: by Kang Ying (new)

Kang Ying She Great I found a book about China, maybe that would make my mother proud even though she said I have to stop reading so many books at a time.
I am Chinese btw.

message 7: by Kelley (new)

Kelley If you are into non-fiction, Xinran is a fabulous author to read.

message 8: by Kang Ying (new)

Kang Ying She Thank you for the advice! I will check them out.

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