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On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family Paperback – August 27, 1996

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Editorial Reviews Review

Lisa See, daughter of novelist Carolyn See, brings a novelist's skill to this sprawling ancestral history. Books tracing the roots of overseas Chinese writers are not uncommon these days, but See uncovered in her family tree a capsule history of the Sino-American diaspora: her great-grandfather, Fong See, founded a California business, married a Caucasian woman and fathered many offspring, and returned periodically to China to redistribute some of his wealth and launch another family. See, a Publishers Weekly writer, has conducted extensive interviews and drawn on family lore for an enthralling saga of ambition, prejudice, love, loyalty, and sorrow--social history at its best. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This account of a Chinese family's adventures in America over the course of a century offers a tapestry of immigrant life.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Books ed edition (August 27, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679768521
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679768524
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (608 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #912,555 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

283 of 284 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
I must admit that I was a little (all right, very) skeptical when I first saw this book several years ago. I resisted buying or reading it only because I didn't believe that a part-Chinese (1/8 to be precise)American could do a good job in telling the story of "the" Chinese-American experience. In many ways, I was stereotyping the idea of what Chinese-American is. I was thinking of a Chinese-American as one who is ethnically 100% Chinese but is culturally American and that would preclude someone like See. Well, I was wrong. This author, Lisa See, convinced me that her family story is truly a Chinese-American one. No, let me rephrase, her story is an "American" one.
Now that I've read and enjoyed the book, I am especially surprised, pleasantly, at how honest and real her portrayal of the characters are. I know these are real people and the stories are real but to me their stories read like fairy tales an so they become characters. Their stories are so unusual that had See not done such a good job in writing it, they would have been unbelievable.
One of the reasons that it is a really good book is the way the author presented the facts -- with stories and photographs. It is a well documented, well researched, and well written book.
I could also attest to the veracities of the historical events and personal dramas that were described in the book because my own family's history had very many of the same events, trials and tribulations are similar to hers. And since I do read and speak Chinese and I am knowledgable about the customs of the Southern China district where her great-grandfather came from, I can also say that her description of the cultures (including family practices, language, etc...) are extremely accurate.
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201 of 205 people found the following review helpful By jmh on September 10, 2002
Format: Paperback
Born into a predominately Cantonese family, Lisa See is surprised when as a young girl, her chinese uncles point at her and describe "white ghosts, like you". Surprised, she realized she appeared white, but felt chinese. Surrounded by her older relatives, she listened to their stories and became determined to capture their memories. Approached by her elder female aunties, they expressed a desire to document the family history. As the primary family members became aged, Lisa took up the rewarding challenge to pen the history of the incredible See family.
This is truly a beautiful book. Ms. See has an obvious talent for research and her efforts were rather astonishing when one reads the history of her ancestors. Not only does she historically account for chinese immigration to the states, but details the events and cultures of life in China. Tracing back to the time of her grandfather See-Bok's early years, Ms See writes about her family that turns out to be more than a page turner.
The family is entertaining, intelligent, strong and industrious. Her grandmother is the star of the novel. A pioneer white christian woman, she is abused by her own family and escapes a life of servitude forced on her by them. In a central californian town, she talks herself into a job at a chinese underwear factory that caters to prostitutes. The chinese owner eventually proposes to her despite significant social complications. This is the beginning of one of the most important chinese families in America and their contributions to the art world and their personal tales of challenge and love in the early Los Angeles years.
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54 of 56 people found the following review helpful By L. Troy Beals on June 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
This biography of the author's family history back to China is enjoyable and complex. She traces her large family from one of her ancestors who came to America during the 1860's. She handles the numerous story lines well and the pedigree chart at the beginning is very valuable in helping the reader keep track of her family. The author also does a good job of incorporating her family into the times they lived in. We see her family not in isolation from the world, but as part of world and local events. This adds humaness and closeness to the people in her story. She is non-judgemental and attempts to handle "family skeletons" with tact, although you get the feeling that her version of some events isn't what some family members believe, And she seems to have the "I'm grandpa's favorite grandchild" attitude which doesn't neccesarily hurt the book, but you wonder how her relatives felt about the book. Although the book is long, the story keeps you interested. Defintley a must read.
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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Reviewer on July 2, 2008
Format: Paperback
There's not much magic realism or mystic exoticism about this blunt, detailed, multi-generational history of an immigrant family. If you're looking for a novel, you'll find that Lisa See has written several. I repeat, this is a history, and it will be of interest chiefly to historians and other social scientists, professional or arm-chair.

Ms. See's great-great-grandfather arrived in America in 1867. The shabby treatment that he and other Chinese immigrants received is part of American history, but here in this book it becomes more vivid because See includes the reader in her "family album." Suffice it to say that the Fong/See family shrugged off indignities, worked hard, brought kinfolk to share the work despite arbitrary and unfair hurdles, took root in America, and succeeded more or less to the measure of their immigrant dreams. So it was with my mother's immigrant family from North Europe, and so it has been with every immigrant complement to America's cultural universality. Quite a few of the Fong/See second-comers spent time at the detention center of Angel Island, as described in the book "Island" which I reviewed a few days ago.

The drama in this history of the branching See family - what makes this book memorable - is a love story, the secret and perilous marriage of Fong See, the son of the 1867 immigrant, to a woman of European heritage, Letticie Pruett. Interracial marriage was illegal for decades in California, as in many states, and the penalties were a lot more severe than mere annulment. The Fong See clan ran the risk of deportation, and the couple had reason to fear ostracism and personal violence.

There's a sheaf of family photos in the center of the book.
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