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On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American…

by Lisa See

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8112423,147 (3.96)1 / 58
Chronicles the experiences of a Chinese-American family in California, beginning with the immigration of the author's great-great-grandfather in the late 1800s.
  1. 00
    How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang (MM_Jones)
    MM_Jones: Fiction and nonfiction descriptions of Chinese in California Gold Rush

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 World Reading Circle: On Gold Mountain, Lisa See2 unread / 2mirrani, August 2013

» See also 58 mentions

English (23)  German (1)  All languages (24)
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Lisa See has written her family’s history over the course of over one hundred years. The narrative traces back to the author’s great-great-grandfather, who traveled from China to California to reap the riches of “gold mountain” (as America was called in China). He worked as a laborer on the Transcontinental Railroad. In 1866, the author’s great-grandfather, settled in California. Lisa See examines the many family members’ hopes, motivations, struggles, business ventures through the generations. Themes include the Chinese immigrant experience, racial discrimination, and women’s issues. It is easy to spot the influences of her family’s history on her fiction. She sets her family story against a backdrop of historic events. It also provides a number of cultural insights. Recommended to those interested in immigration accounts, family sagas, or California history. ( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
Subtitle: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of a Chinese-American Family.

This is See’s “biography” of her family, starting with her great-great-grandfather, Fong Dun Shung, who immigrated to America (“The Gold Mountain”) in 1861 as an herbalist / healer working for the railroad. He brought with him two of his four sons, who both worked as laborers helping to build the transcontinental railroad. His fourth son, Fong See, arrived in 1871 at age fourteen, and soon became an entrepreneur shopkeeper, with wives on two continents. See-bok, as he became known, was illiterate, but a shrewd businessman, and he founded a family dynasty. The story of this family is a history of the immigrants from China (and other Asian nations).

See used extensive research that began with the oral history passed down in her family. She looked at national archives, immigration records, property records and news articles. Her narrative explores not just her family’s history, but shows the history of America’s policies on immigration, specifically those coming from Asia.

It’s a fascinating story and exceedingly well told. I was very glad that the book included maps and a family tree, because I frequently made use of both.

The last forty pages or so of the book are Lisa See’s own story, including her trip to China to get more information from the family members still there. This really brought her family’s story full circle for me.

I’ve had this book on my TBR for ages, but it was the prompt to read a memoir that had me finally picking up. Additionally, I have recently learned that an opera has been written based on this family story and that also piqued my interest. I’m so glad I finally read it. ( )
  BookConcierge | Jul 14, 2022 |
Lisa See is Eurasian: with a Chinese great-grandfather, she is one-eighth Chinese. Until 1948 in California, and 1967 in many other states, it would have been illegal for Lisa to marry a white man. In fact, Lisa was the first person in her extended family to marry legally in the United States. Her book traces the history of the See family and, by extension, Chinese settlement in California, starting with her great-great grandfather, a herbalist who treated the Chinese labourers building the Central Pacific Railroad. It is a history of racial discrimination: Chinese were not allowed to own land, marry whites, or bring their families to America. After the railroads were built, Chinese labourers were unable to enter the country legally.

See's great-grandfather, Fong See, the herbalist's youngest son, arrived in California in the 1871. Although enterprising, clever, and ultimately a wealthy and successful antique dealer, he could not read. He came from peasant family that could afford to educate only one son, who did all the reading and writing for the family.

See traces not just her Chinese-American family. She spent five years doing the research for this book, and investigated the histories of the Caucasian women who married into generations of the See family, and travelled to China to meet the descendants of Fong See and his brothers, who had wives and children in China as well as in America.

I found this book fascinating.

An aside. Lisa See's mother is Carolyn See, who wrote the memoir Dreaming: Hard Luck and Good Times in America, which I read when it first came out in 1996. Carolyn comes from generations of hard-living alcoholics and, while she writes an entertaining memoir and comes across a brave, smart and funny, life cannot have been easy for little Lisa See. Lisa spent a lot of her time with the parents of her father, Richard See, listening to their stories of the old days. ( )
  pamelad | Aug 26, 2021 |
I highly recommend this book to folks who are into genealogy. It is a wonderful story of See's Chinese ancestry. I am grateful to the author for sharing it! ( )
  tntbeckyford | Feb 16, 2019 |
I don't generally write a review on a book I didn't finish although this time I feel compelled to do so. Although I have not left a rating as that didn't seem fair. I was in the mood for a nonfiction book and when I found this one I was really excited. Looked to be along the lines of David Laskin's "The Family" which I loved. On Gold Mountain is historical fiction, biographical fiction, whatever you want to call it but nonfiction it isn't. When an author can tell me what side off a street someone was walking on while he looked at a blue sky through whatever color green leaves and what he was thinking while doing so, or give detailed thoughts running a page or two of what was running through someone's mind while they are dying(both examples of which took place in the 1870s),that is not nonfiction. Same with the conversations that took place.
Just because you have researched a book for years and can take a pretty good guess at what you think someone might have thought, felt, or said, it's still a guess. It would have went over better with me if the author had even let the reader know she had taken some liberties in telling the story. I probably would have finished the book and left a 5 star rating because the writing is really very good. But in the end I felt mislead and irritated.
  flippinpages | Aug 4, 2018 |
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For the great-great-grandsons of Letticie and Fong See, Alexander See Kendall and Christopher Copeland Kendall
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Fong Dun Shung hoisted his Gold Mountain bag onto his shoulder and nodded one last time to his wife, daughter, and Number One and Number Four sons.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Chronicles the experiences of a Chinese-American family in California, beginning with the immigration of the author's great-great-grandfather in the late 1800s.

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