A writer of Mexican-American heritage (Jury, 1977) tells the engrossing saga of his family's immigration to, and subsequent life in, California in the wake of the Mexican revolution. A sort of Hispanic Roots, the book focuses on three generations as they struggle with poverty and prejudice, love and life. When Villasenor was first contracted to write Rain of Gold, it was to be a ``major'' work of fiction. As he began interviewing his relatives for background material, however, he realized that there was a much more important story to tell: the nonfiction account of his family's history. Unable to convince his publisher to go along with his new plans, Villasenor gave back his $75,000 advance, took a $1,500 advance from a lesser-known house, and set about writing ``a history of a people--a tribal heritage, if you will--of my Indian-European culture as handed down to me....'' It was a brave and rewarding decision. From beginning to end, the chronicle is filled with one remarkable story after another. All have the simple warmhearted quality of family tales told around the kitchen table, yet all are eminently believable. Many episodes have to do with overcoming hardships: A daughter is brutally raped and goes blind; a proud mother is forced to become a beggar to support her children; a son admits to a murder he didn't commit in order to collect money for his family. Others deal with love and God and the ``meaning of life.'' The book is heavy-handed and sketchy at times, and bogs down in the second half, but, overall, it's a page-turner. Perhaps not the definitive Hispanic family epic, but an inspiring, fast-paced tale with a simple, fable-like quality that's often surprisingly moving.