ON GOLD MOUNTAIN: The Hundred-Year Odyssey of a Chinese-American Family by Lisa See

ON GOLD MOUNTAIN: The Hundred-Year Odyssey of a Chinese-American Family

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Despite some unanswered questions, a copiously researched history and a page-turning read. Fong See, the author's Chinese great-grandfather, came to the US as a teenager in 1871. Lisa See's first book takes us through his marriage to a white woman, Letticie Pruett; decades as a Californian entrepreneur (initially selling underwear to prostitutes, later becoming a renowned dealer of rare Chinese antiques); subsequent marriages to much younger Chinese women; 12 children; and numerous trips back to China. The family personalities come alive in See's history--the Prohibition-era alcoholics, the lonely white women who married See men, Letticie's refusal to be a traditionally obedient Chinese wife (though in many ways she identified with Chinese people, once explaining to a white visitor why ""we"" do not like to be called ""Chinamen""), and Fong See's Eurasian sons, whose ""exotic"" looks helped them become dashing Los Angeles playboys. See also provides admirable historical context, always taking stock of political developments in both the US and China and explaining how they might have affected her family. Using interviews, government records, newspaper clippings, and sales slips, among other documents, See has constructed an absorbing multigenerational family saga. The narrative is marred only by a tendency to push the boundaries of fictionalization. All biographers have to do some guesswork, but See at times frustrates by not telling us how much of her account is speculation. For instance, in the chapter on actress Anna May Wong, dubiously titled ""Anna May Speaks (From the Grave),"" it is clear that See has made up Wong's words, but her sourcing doesn't reveal how much she knows about the real Anna May's thoughts and feelings. Fact/fiction ambiguities aside, an invaluable document of immigrant experience that raises complex questions about identity in American culture.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1995
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: St. Martin's