Written in 1994, On Gold Mountain is the historical account of Lisa See’s own Chinese family. She begins with her great-grandfather’s journey from China to the United States while still in his teens. I greatly enjoyed reading about 19th century California and the immigrant experience. There is so much information about how the Chinese were treated (how they were excluded from most forms of commerce and owning land), and how some were able to overcome their struggles. The See family thrived due to hard work, ingenuity and the good fortune of Fong See’s marriage to a white woman – Lisa See’s great-grandmother Ticie. This is a great story with rich culture, concubines, arranged marriages, prostitution, success in business and also a commitment to family. It is the stuff of any fascinating tale – and yet this one is true.
The author does a tremendous amount of research here. This includes not only the See family history, but the historical context of the time and place she’s talking about. It is a veritable treasure trove of information for those interested in the past.
My only complaint is the prose. At times, the laundry list (no pun intended) of Chinese names got confusing. I assume, since Lisa See wrote this for her family, that the tedious chapters dealing with the various descendants were for their benefit. I could just as well done without that. Otherwise, I did enjoy this book very much.
3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1995