Sighing Woman Tea
Sighing Woman Tea opens as Thomas Figas Burke is returning to his mystical island home of Viridis or Green Island off of Canton after he left to pursue his education in mathematics. Figas is a descendent of Thomas Burke, one of the passengers on a trading ship which discovered and inhabited the island in the 12th century. Over time, that small, muticultural band learned to live in harmony with each other and the island and to carefully cultivate the Sighing Woman Tea, which is currently more expensive per ounce than gold in the international tea markets. Now, Figas returns home with a warning: multinational corporations will sweep in and destroy their idyllic paradise to wrest away control of the tea. The aunties and uncles who lead the Green Islanders seem right to ignore Figas concerns as he reintegrates into this close-knit society, until the 125th Expeditionary Force sails into port, occupies the island, and attempts to impose military law on the islanders. Can this traditional, peaceful society survive this invasion? Are the Green Islanders as simple as some of the occupying forces believe? Can the islanders find a way to live the values their ancestors learned from the island, repel their invaders, and save their tea?
Mark Daniel Seiler has written a wonderful novel. He takes his readers halfway around the globe on a trading ship traveling from Sicily to a fictional Green Island and then across several centuries. Despite its breadth of scope, the novel had real depth that makes it hard to put aside. The main characters are multidimensional. From the 12th century crusader Burke, who loves learning and refuses to kill innocent Muslim women and children, to his descendant, Figas, who understands numbers better than emotions and must face an almost paralyzing childhood trauma in addition to an occupying force, Seiler gives each of his main characters a unique persona. Furthermore, Seiler writes excellent dialogue with wit and insight. In particular, he demonstrates a real understanding of Eastern culture and its ability to obscure with the obvious. Finally, this novels plot is refreshingly new and unpredictable, especially in the islanders tactics, but closes in a wholly satisfying way. A Pacific Rim Book Festival winner, Sighing Woman Tea is an excellent debut novel and a delight to read.