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on December 16, 2016
Superior tale of Chinese and Chinese-Americans in California from late 1800s railroad-building through four generations of struggle to the present day - an engaging historical account rendered delightfully personal through the stories Lisa tells in On Gold Mountain of her family history and her great grandfather Fong See and his journey to the West and sojourn on the gold mountain in Sacramento, San Francisco, and finally Los Angeles, where he founded a successful merchant dynasty and a family of many generations in and around mysterious Chinatown. Unique as a book written by one of several extraordinary "Caucasian" women who helped build businesses and make homes for their Chinese families. Many images of early Los Angeles and Hollywood linger after the final page - little Lisa retreating to her grandparents house in Chinatown, Anna Mae Wong holding court in the See family restaurant, antique furniture rented to the studios for films. Now when we watch those old black-and-white movies set in Chinatown from the 30s through the 40s we're on the lookout for sets created from the riches of the See family antique shops. We grew up visiting LA's Chinatown often but, after reading Lisa's book, it's no longer "just Chinatown, Jake," and is now a whole new marvelous place peopled with folks we now know much better, at least in memory.
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on April 22, 2016
In 1867 Lisa See's great great grandfather arrived in America from China. As an herbalist, his services were in great demand by immigrant laborers. This is where her family history begins.

Fong See, her great grandfather started making ladies underwear, married Ticie, a Caucasian woman before building a successful antique business. The family's story involves racism, romance, secret marriages and betrayals. Not only does On Gold Mountain tell the story of a family, it documents the history of America from the building of the railroads through the Great Depression into the post war boom of the fifties.

That is a lot of territory to cover. The story is meticulously researched and Ms. See does a good job of keeping the reader's head focused on the family tree. There is a lot going on and people and places to keep track of. In some areas the story dragged on. I felt some parts were important to document for the family but maybe not so interesting to the average reader.

I love Lisa See's fiction much more than this book, but I fully understand her desire to write it. In any event On Gold Mountain is a wide and sweeping history lesson in the people that help to make American the wonderful place it is. And I'm glad I read it. I learned so much.
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I had never heard of Lisa See, but just about everyone I've mentioned this book to seems to have read at least one of her novels. I had read a NY Times review for Flower Net - one of her more recent works, but what really intrigued me was the reference to this book, so I put it in my Kindle Q, and I'm so glad I did.

Gold Mountain was the Chinese nickname for the US back in the 1800's. This book is a family history covering over hundred years, but done in a way I've not seen before, as she not only describes the events that defined the Fong See and Lettice Pruett legacy (her great grandparents), but she also puts herself directly in the mind of all her relatives and ancestors, which at times gives the book the feel of a novel. Lisa See looks like an Irish redhead (there were two redheads in her Chinese/American lineage), but she is 1/4 Chinese, and as a young woman, found solace in her extended and welcoming Chinese family, as her parents were somewhat dysfunctional while she was growing up. It's one reason I suspect that her novels mix Chinese and American cultural themes and characters.

The book actually starts with her great-great grandfather, although he returns to China. However, his son, Fong See, comes and stays (moving from San Francisco to Sacramento to Los Angeles), although he travels extensively for his business. He marries a Caucasian woman, Lettice Pruett, which leads to many interesting and varied cultural and legal conflicts, both in the US and in China. While the US was actively discouraging Asian immigration after the completion of the transcontinental railroad, many were also fascinated with Asian furniture, art, and curios, which became the family business (check out the youtube video for the F. Suie One Company). This is truly an amazing work, and in the addendum, See describes what a work in progress a family history can be, trying to separate family mythology from fact. For anyone with Asian ancestors, Chinese in particular, this feels like a must read book, and for anyone who values what immigration has meant for the US, and the challenges immigrants have faced (and continue to face), this is also a must read book. Five stars from this reader.
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on May 27, 2014
This could have been an excellent book about an interesting family. It was a story of success against odds and is an important part of American history. The story of the Chinese experience in the United States, both opportunity and the impediments placed in their paths by repressive laws, are not as widely known as that of other nationalities, or at least not to me. However, the flow of the book about this exceptional family was hampered by repetitive pages filled with statistics and recitation of laws restricting activities of Chinese immigrants. It only needed to be presented once. In spite of too much information and detail, I would recommend it. The story of the founders of this family, Letticie and Fong See, is of larger than life characters, not easily forgotten. It was worth wading through the rest.
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on March 21, 2014
As a third generation Asian American, I believe that much is not really known about our immigration and settlement in the U.S. mainland. In a fascinating story about the author's family that covers five generations, On Gold Mountain helps provide more depth to that immigration experience. With the background of slowly changing social attitudes in America, Ms. See uses the story of her family and their friends to provide a taste of the discrimination they faced from the time they arrived at the immigration center on Angel Island, to getting employment, and their treatment by the larger society. We also see the importance and downsides of ethnic communities, the influence of one's heritage, the implications of inter-racial marriages, what it means to be a visible minority and the many coping mechanisms used, and the impact of what is happening in Asia. Ms. See ends her book with a lot of data that to illustrate that much of what her family went through was experienced by many other Asian American families, but, to me, learning and the A-ha moments came from reading about the See family.
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on April 21, 2017
It was a bit of a struggle to stay with the story in the beginning to learn all the players and understand their names. An epic biography in all possible ways with an eye to history in each generation that formed the current Chinese American population among us today.
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on July 21, 2017
This Lisa See story is a historical retelling of her own family's history. There are shocking facts to be learned, amid relatively dull family business. However, I have thought of this book a thousand times since I read it, and I have shared the remarkable information contained on its pages. So, not the usually warm and intriguing stories I have read of hers before . . . but OH SO worth the time.
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on June 27, 2015
On Gold Mountain is an excellent record of one family's journey from China to California in the context of the history of society during those years. As a family historian, I fully appreciate the enormity of the author's task. She is to be highly commended for the research and organization of this history. The story fully involves many cousins, and manages to shine a light on multiple marriages, illegitimate births, etc. There is a superb amount of detail, both personal and historical. If one is interested in the history of Los Angeles, the family's commercial interests loom large, the history of Chinatown is illuminated. Through family members' trips back and forth to China, we learn about life there and the difficult process of immigration and integration into U. S. society. For Ms. See's family, this book must seem like a gift straight from heaven!

However, the general reader may find the attempt to include all members of an enormous family confusing, and amount of historical detail distracting. One must remember that these are real people with real strengths and real flaws. It is not a novel. It seems a little too long for the general reader, but I recommend it as an excellent example of family history, social history of Chinese immigration, and history of a multi-racial family in southern California.
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on September 20, 2013
This book reminded me of China Men (Vintage International) by Maxine Hong Kingston, which was about the history of Chinese immigrants in the U.S.. This memoir looks at one such Chinese family who came from a village outside of Canton, China, and became wealthy in California through antiques. I first read China Men while taking some Asian history classes in university, and now came across this book, which came out at around that same time. It would have been a perfect accompaniment to China Men.

One of the book's themes is the struggle for acceptance into a culture as an outsider, in the See's family, it was as a biracial family. I recall reading about similar discriminatory experiences in other Asian-American books like Falling leaves return to their roots (Paperback) (Traditional Chinese Edition). The struggles the main character, Fong See, had to go through with bringing his family to America, and his success at business allowed him to achieve the American dream, although, what he really wanted was to pursue the Chinese dream, something the Chinese government is just now trying to promote, even though people have many different interpretations of what that really is.

The reader gets to see the history of a Caucasian family from the East coast move to the West coast, and how one girl who runs away from home ends up meeting Fong See, the author's grandfather. Even though it's a real family history, the author states there is a mixture of reality and fantasy in the stories of each of the main characters, those being Fong See's first wife and their five children. There is a famous actress and some close family friends who add their interesting lives into the overarching See family history, too. It was fun to read about how a family restaurant brought early Hollywood stars into Chinatown and into the lives of the Sees. Within the love stories of how each person found their spouses, the reader gets to see the struggles they go through in business and in love.

Fong See is an example of a strict and traditional Chinese father, but his children grew up American, and the clash between East and West runs through the book. The focus was always on the discrimination and struggles each character had with gaining respect, and equal opportunities as a minority in American culture.

It was interesting to read about the changes in Chinatown through the century, and a good tour of the changes in immigration history of the U.S., like what happened on Angel Island and how certain politicians use immigration to garner votes.

I enjoyed the archival photos of old Chinatown and the photos in old Canton where the family built their hotel.

The book might appear a bit negative, but that's the discrimination the characters faced during that time in U.S. history. It's the author's way to bring forth the other side of the story. It's not all negative as there are other family friends who help and support them.

It is a history of a hyphenated-American family. Some people ask why can't we be just Americans? It's because some people chose to hold onto their first culture as well, and blend the two together. It's coming to grips with your roots and gaining a better understanding of who you are. I think this memoir gives voice to not just the See family, but to what other Chinese families had to overcome as they try to start new lives in a new land.
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on July 24, 2010
Ms. See has written lovingly, and descriptively of her family's early life in this country having immigrated from China in the early 1900's. The tales of this country's prejudices and racial discriminations place the the triumphs of her family in the early success stories of our times. Their place in the history of Los Angeles and the entrepreneurial family endeavors are both unique and salient in the unfolding Chinese culture during harsh immigration laws and downright racism. The See family influences in Chinatown and status in that community set new perspectives with the intermarriage of Fong See and Ticie, a Caucasian woman who mothered the four sons and one daughter of this family history. I most highly recommend this book to all, and have read more slowly as i do not want the story to end....the book is fascinating and its revelations life affirming. Kate Lipsky aka George Sand
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