Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Thursday, May 11, 2017

"No Coincidence, No Story"--Lisa See

Lisa See signs her latest, and most poignant, novel
April 29, 2017, Danish Lutheran Church, Yorba Linda
Approximately 150 dedicated fans of the novels of Lisa See gathered a recent Saturday morning to hear her discuss her latest effort, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. Fortunately I'd returned from a long overseas trip just in time to catch her penultimate appearance to promote this novel.

The book's provocative opening line, "No story," reflects what led Lisa to write this novel. She'd seen a couple in Santa Monica with an adopted Chinese daughter. The child had a mischievous air about her that reminded Lisa of what is known in Asian mythology as a "fox spirit." Such spirits, while often naughty, are possessed of magic powers which also can bring great love. This little girl even had worn her hair in a fox tail.

Lisa had been thinking of writing about the one-child policy and adoption for a long time, and now yet another coincidence occurred. She'd been on a promotional event for her previous book, China Dolls, and the group that had sponsored her speaking engagement had brought in a tea-master who conducted what she describes as a messy ceremony. But realizing that tea is the second most popular drink in the world, after water, she began her research, which lead her to discover that Yunnan province, China, still has original Pu'er tea plantations.

Lisa compared the quality of teas to that of wines, ranging in quality from "Two Buck Chuck" to  fine teas can fetch as much at auction as certain rare vintages of Chateau Margaux. In fact, when Hong Kong reverted back to China, some people sold their valuable collections of Pu'er to finance their immigration to the States. One cake of tea sold for $150,000. She mentioned the Tea Horse Road, sometimes known as the Southern Silk Road, that extends from Yunnan to Tibet. The route earned the name Tea-Horse Road because of the common trade of Tibetan ponies for Chinese tea.

During her research into issues of identity, as it relates to adoption, Lisa interviewed dozens of young adoptees. She'd heard of the "grateful but angry" adoptee, but what she found was more "grateful but sad." Many of the young women said they knew they were precious to their adoptive families, but believed they had not been precious enough for their birth parents to keep.

"This is my deepest mother/daughter story yet," Lisa added. Her previous novels,  Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love, deal with how mothers look at children. This novel focuses more on daughters' views of mothers.

One further coincidence...just as she was finishing the novel, Carolyn See, Lisa's novelist and literary critic mother, was diagnosed with cancer. She'd died just ten days later.

I'd been a dedicated fan of Lisa's since I first met both her and her mother in 1979 when she helped Carolyn put on the first of a marvelous series of symposiums of Southern California writers at Loyola Marymount. Those were the days even before the debut of the popular Monica Highland novels, on which Lisa collaborated with Carolyn and Carolyn's longtime partner, UCLA professor John Espey. (The inspiration for the trio's pen name had been the intersection of Highland Ave. and Santa Monica Blvd.)

I'd been on a European river cruise last July, so hadn't heard about Carolyn's death until a few weeks before this April event at the Danish Lutheran Church in Yorba Linda. I wanted to tell Lisa how much I'd valued her mother.

The mother/daughter theme also ran through Carolyn's I mentioned that I remembered that to Lisa, when she signed my book. I added that while she had been talking that morning I couldn't help but recall Mothers, Daughters, Carolyn's novel of family relationships set in California's turbulent '70s. Many of the events in that book had been drawn from Carolyn's experience in raising her own daughters. Lisa nodded. "I know," she said, her eyes reflecting her pain.

Lisa signed my copy, "A Story of Mother Love."

A final note. Lisa's next novel will not be connected to China. Rather it will focus on the haenyeo, the women seafood divers of the coastal Jeju province of South Korea. Some of these divers are still working at their trade, even in their seventies. The gender reversal roles in this matriarchal society will play a central theme. 

For more about Pu'er tea and Lisa's research, visit her website:
A conversation between mother Carolyn and daughter Lisa:
Carolyn See on mother and daughter relationships:

1 comment:

  1. Your blog posts are so intriguing. I love stopping by.