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December 12 , 2010

Sighing Woman Tea


“To ebb is human, to flow divine.” Our main character, Thomas Burke, goes by the nickname –– Figas, a math prodigy who specializes in prediction theory. When he learns that the tea grown in his childhood home has become of extreme value, he predicts that multinational corporations will swoop in and wrestle control of the tea operations from the gentle islanders. Figas sails with Capt. Martin aboard the Lady Slipper, reaching Green Island on the morning of the biggest festival of the year. It isn’t long before the tea master, Uncle Sun, sweeps Figas and his perfect prediction model over the threshold. Potential threats are forgotten, as Figas becomes reacquainted with the main character of the story, the island of Viridis. Across Teagate’s swinging bridge, the traditional way of tea still prospers. Hidden within the simple lifestyle lies the center of the world, where time stops for tea. Mirroring the ruthless Dutch East Indian Company, which controlled the tea and spice trade for two hundred years, the ACUGO Corporation unleashes a plot to take control of the island’s precious export. Put on the kettle, and cozy up to a nice cup of tea and watch as the islanders use a mixture of Upaya, (skillful means) and humor to resist the outside forces that threaten them. “Viridis, also known as Green Island, is a tiny fi ctional nation founded in the 12th century by a mixed-race crew whose ship was blown off course while returning from Canton. Thomas Burke, descendant of an island founder, left home to pursue a career in mathematics, specializing in prediction theory; Viridians call him “Figas,” patois for “Figures.” Now, a foundation director has tapped him to return and warn the gentle islanders that Viridis’ tea––more expensive per ounce than gold––is in danger of attracting greedy attention. When an occupying force takes over Viridis, Figas and the locals face an enormous challenge: how to fi nd an island way of protecting themselves. They call on sacrifi ce, patience, showmanship and the spirit of the island––and readers will join the cheering section. In his accomplished debut novel, Seiler deftly sketches memorable, diverse characters while drawing on fascinating historical background. Witty, idiomatic dialogue provides many pithy lines: “a fox is a wolf who sends fl owers”; “The Buddha would play viola….It’s the middle way.” The opening setup––not to mention the novel’s charm, wit and underlying seriousness––recalls The Mouse That Roared by Leonard Wibberley, but this is––like Sighing Woman Tea––a unique and fl avorful blend, by turns comic, poignant, philosophical and romantic. As the book progresses, it gets tighter, funnier and more deeply emotional. Seiler never condescends to his islanders; they may act in comical ways, but they, the island and their tea are to be taken seriously. Nor are the invaders uniformly evil: An Irish soldier’s good heart makes an excellent counterpoint to the blockheaded Cmdr. Prescott. Seiler nicely handles the islander’s tricky maneuvers to outwit the invaders, holding enough back for suspense and providing several well-done set pieces that reveal the islanders’ gifts with satisfying payoffs. Steeped in the charm and traditions of tea drinking and underlaid with serious thought about compassion, this novel is simply wonderful. A delight to read from start to finish.” ––Kirkus Reviews
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