On Gold Mountain (See)

On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family
Lisa See, 1995
Knopf Doubleday
448 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780679768524

When she was a girl, Lisa See spent summers in the cool, dark recesses of her family's antiques store in Los Angeles Chinatown. There, her grandmother and great-aunt told her intriguing, colorful stories about their family's past stories of missionaries, concubines, tong wars, glamorous nightclubs, and the determined struggle to triumph over racist laws and discrimination.

They spoke of how Lisa's great-great-grandfather emigrated from his Chinese village to the United States to work on the building of the transcontinental railroad as an herbalist; how his son followed him, married a Caucasian woman, and despite great odds, went on to become one of the most prominent Chinese on "Gold Mountain" (the Chinese name for the United States).

As an adult, See spent five years collecting the details of her family's remarkable history. She interviewed nearly one hundred relatives—both Chinese and Caucasian, rich and poor—and pored over documents at the National Archives and several historical societies, and searched in countless attics, basements, and closets for the intimate nuances of her ancestors' lives.

The result is a vivid, sweeping family portrait in the tradition of Alex Haley's Roots that is at once particular and universal, telling the story not only of one family, but of the Chinese people in America itself, a country that both welcomes and reviles immigrants like no other culture in the world.

On Gold Mountain was a national bestseller and a New York Times Notable Book. It was the inspiration for an exhibition at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage in 2000. Lisa also wrote a libretto based on the book for a 2000 production by the Los Angeles Opera. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—February 18, 1955
Where—Paris, France
Education—B.A., Loyola Marymount University
Currently—lives in Los Angeles, California

Lisa See is an American writer and novelist. Her Chinese-American family (See has one Chinese great-grandparent) has had a great impact on her life and work. Her books include On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family (1995) and the novels Flower Net (1997), The Interior (1999), Dragon Bones (2003), Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005), Peony in Love (2007), Shanghai Girls (2009), which made it to the 2010 New York Times bestseller list, and China Dolls (2014).

Flower Net, The Interior, and Dragon Bones make up the Red Princess mystery series. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love focus on the lives of Chinese women in the 19th and 17th centuries respectively. Shanghai Girls chronicles the lives of two sisters who come to Los Angeles in arranged marriages and face, among other things, the pressures put on Chinese-Americans during the anti-Communist mania of the 1950s. See published a sequel titled Dreams of Joy.

Writing under the pen name Monica Highland, See, her mother Carolyn See, and John Espey, published three novels: Lotus Land (1983), 110 Shanghai Road (1986), and Greetings from Southern California (1988).

Lisa See was born in Paris but has spent many years in Los Angeles, especially Los Angeles Chinatown. Her mother, Carolyn See, is also a writer and novelist. Her autobiography provides insight into her daughter's life. Lisa See graduated with a B.A. from Loyola Marymount University in 1979.

See was West Coast correspondent for Publishers Weekly (1983–1996); has written articles for Vogue, Self, and More; has written the libretto for the opera based on On Gold Mountain, and has helped develop the Family Discovery Gallery for the Autry Museum, which depicts 1930s Los Angeles from the perspective of her father as a seven-year-old boy. Her exhibition On Gold Mountain: A Chinese American Experience was featured in the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, and the Smithsonian. See is also a public speaker.

She has written for and led in many cultural events emphasizing the importance of Los Angeles and Chinatown. Among her awards and recognitions are the Organization of Chinese Americans Women's 2001 award as National Woman of the Year and the 2003 History Makers Award presented by the Chinese American Museum. See has served as a Los Angeles City Commissioner. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 5/21/2014.)

Book Reviews
"[See] proves to be a clever, conscientious, fair-minded biographer… [She] has done a gallant job of fashioning anecdote, fable and fact into an engaging read. Terrific stuff… The See family's adventures would be incredible if On Gold Mountain were fiction.
New York Times Book Review

Astonishing.... A comprehensive and exhaustively researched account of a Chinese-American family...that juggles such explosive elements as race, class, tradition, prejudice, poverty, and great wealth in new and relatively unexpected combinations.
Los Angeles Times

(Starred reveiw.) A matchless portrait not only of a remarkable family but of a century's changing attitudes.... The ambitions, fears, loves, and sorrows of See's huge cast are set forth with the storytelling skills of a novelist. Immediate and gripping.
Publishers Weekly

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for On Gold Mountain:

1. Discuss the obstacles that Fong See, Lisa's great grandfather, and Letticie Pruett, her caucasan great grandmother, were forced to overcome in order to marry. Also consider the hardships—the indignities and abuses—that each of them encountered in America, the land of equality and opportunity.

2. Lisa herself is only 1/8th Chinese. Do you feel she is qualified to tell the story of Chinese immigrants to this country?

3. How well does See deal with her mother Carolyn, who careened from one marriage to another? Carolyn, by the way, has also written a book; she and Lisa have worked together assisting one another on their separate family projects.

4. Discuss the roles that the women in Lisa's family play. How would you describe those women? What qualities do they exhibit?

5. How does the family's life in China, prior to emmigration, compare with their life in America? Better off? Worse off?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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