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On Gold Mountain: A Family Memoir of Love, Struggle and Survival
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On Gold Mountain: A Family Memoir of Love, Struggle and Survival

3.91  ·  Rating Details  ·  6,601 Ratings  ·  515 Reviews
When she was a girl, Lisa See spent summers in the cool, dark recesses of her family's antiques store in Los Angeles's Chinatown. There, her grand-mother 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 discrimina ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published February 2nd 2009 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (first published 1995)
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Aug 16, 2011 KK rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
If you happen to be a member of the See family you will find this fascinating. If you are researching family histories about the Chinese as a growing factor in California culture in the 19th and 20th century, this book will give you material. Not having either of these roles, I found this the most tedious book I have read in the past 20 years. If it weren't the choice of my book club, I could never have gotten through it.
As it was, I scanned the middle 150 pages.

See seemed that she just had to
A very entertaining and interesting family story, although I wasn't crazy about the writing style, which occasionally reminded me of The Boxcar Children (which is a fine and dandy writing style when you're writing for elementary school students, but this one was full of whores and opium). I also kept finding myself thinking, "How could she have KNOWN what he was thinking at that moment?" so I think either her family interviews were EXTREMELY in-depth or she speculated about a lot of stuff. I too ...more
Rachel Wagner
I love this book because it made me look at the immigration issue in a new way. It's amazing to read many of the political speeches given in the early part of the 20th century about the Chinese and then to realize that many are saying the exact same things about some of the immigrants coming over today. Don't we learn! Immigrants are always looked at as a burden but they have always proven the doubters wrong in the past. This book taught me that lesson. It is not for the squeamish. Some of the t ...more
Feb 13, 2010 Stephanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story of a remarkable man and his descendants, made doubly interesting by the fact that the man was a Chinese immigrant to California in the 1870's. The deck was so stacked against Chinese immigrants then and for the next almost 100 years (immigration almost impossible once the railroad was complete, almost impossible for women to immigrate, illegal to marry a white person, illegal to own property, couldn't become a citizen, etc. etc. etc.) that to survive and even thrive was an amazing achi ...more
Aug 07, 2013 Marcy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read almost all of Lisa See's books, so it only made sense for me to read about the true story concerning the past generations in her family tree. Gold Mountain, the west coast in America, was supposedly filled with gold, and that truth/rumor drew multitudes of people from America and overseas to the west. So many Chinese men came, leaving their wives and family back in small Chinese villages, hoping to make a fortune. In order to survive, the Chinese were hired to do the backbreaking wor ...more
Kathleen Spearman
This was my introduction to Lisa See, an affair that is enduring and endearing. My own Los Angeles roots, if you can call the San Fernando Valley "Los Angeles", led me on odyssey through familiar places with a whole new perspective. I read it by accident, it being on my daughter's reading list for a college class and handy on the bookshelf. Well, what a gold-mine I've discovered through this chance encounter. Ironically, my daughter never read the book. She missed a gem.
Jan 06, 2010 Julia rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
On Gold Mountain was a non-fiction book about Lisa See's family history. It begins with the story of Fong See's immigration to the United States and his efforts to make himself a success. He opens several stores and marries an American women. The book is interesting in that the story is highly unique and new. However, the prose is difficult to read. One quote on the book's cover said that it was as "readable as any novel" but I don't find this to be true. I was not engaged at all in the story. I ...more
Lynne O'brien
Aug 22, 2007 Lynne O'brien rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A non-fiction family saga about coming to the US from China and the experience of being an immigrant in America. An interesting twist is that the original immigrant marries an American woman; the Chinese husband, American wife and bi-national children all face different types of discrimination. The family also experiences the "rags to riches" story of financial success in their new country, so the overall story is one of hopes and dreams fulfilled in addition to pain and loss.
Nov 12, 2012 Christine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-own
Although it took me forever to get through this book, I found it a fascinating read and something that I'll never forget. It is heartbreaking how awful Chinese immigrants were treated in the last 100 years in America. I think it is a national disgrace. And it was still going on in the '50's and '60's! What an eye-opener this family history is. Well done Lisa See.
Sep 18, 2011 Lorraine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Anyone who does so much research for a book and tells good stories deserves five stars.

This is a remarkable historic and biographical book that not only covers Lisa See’s own family history, but also the Chinese in America. Gold Mountain is the Chinese name for the United States. Having heard stories as a child in Los Angeles Chinatown in her family’s antique business of her family’s past and especially that of her great-great grandfather (Fong See) who emigrated from China to the United State i
Feb 17, 2012 Marcia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was good, but not great. It taught me lot about the lives and problems of the Chinese people who came to the West Coast, originally to build the railroads and then to stay in the US and become part of the fabric of California and the US. there were some interesting people in Lisa See's family and their stoy needed to be recorded. Many reviewers found this book boring......I never felt it was at all boring, but it also did not soar. the characters were intersting but not fascinating...j ...more
Jul 30, 2013 Joanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Detailed and illuminating view of the Chinese immigration experience in the United States. I suspect much of this carefully assembled information will be new to most readers. Lisa See has crafted the book painstakingly and with love.
Joyce Tyo
Apr 19, 2015 Joyce Tyo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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 (like 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 ...more
I first spotted this book as an Amazon Kindle sale item, but opted to check it out from the local library instead.

I found On Gold Mountain to be a fairly engrossing look at a personalized history of the immigrant Chinese experience in California (specifically San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles) from the 1870's onward. While I was aware of the big picture (men brought in to work on the railroads; the various Exclusion laws and regulations), being able to follow a single family provides a
Shari Larsen
Jan 06, 2012 Shari Larsen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the history of the Chinese side of the family of author Lisa See. Through research and talking to relatives, she has been able to trace back the beginnings of her family in America, when her great grandfather arrived from China when he was still in his teens, and pretty much uneducated. Despite the lack of education, he had ambition; he worked hard and became a successful businessman. He married a Caucasian woman, which was almost unheard of in those days. They fought prejudice and discr ...more
Mar 01, 2010 Lori rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
On Gold Mountain is the history of the See family and like most histories it is most interesting to the one telling it. For me, this book club choice was boring with a capital B. Approximately 400 pages of family history from Lisa See's great great grandfathers immigration to work on the transcontinetal railroad to her latest sojourn to the small Chinese town of Dimato to meet her great grandfathers and great uncles third and fourth family relatives from their concubines left in China. Make your ...more
Jan 30, 2010 Heather rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: chinese american history, california history, biography
Shelves: biography-memoir
I read this to get some background on Lisa See after reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and learning the See is descended from a Chinese American family. I think she does an interesting job of presenting the melding of Chinese and American influences in her family. She also does a competent job of providing a historical context of the Chinese experience in the Western States. I think that See does a fine job of telling the story of Fong See's family but then the narrative turns slightly chop ...more
May 24, 2013 Elinor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs
This took me a long time to finish (as in, months), but i really enjoyed it. If you've enjoyed any of Lisa See's novels, you will be happy to hear that although this story is based on historical events, it reads like one of her novels, with quite a lot of suspense, drama and even laughter. I was especially impressed with her ability to look critically at the actions of elders she grew up with. It is often easy to either wholly demonizes or idealize the adults we grew up with, but See is able to ...more
Sep 04, 2010 Jen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating, intimate story of a family's American saga, meticulously researched and unabashedly frank. The language is clear and lovely. A true story, it reads like fiction. The political and cultural environment is so vividly painted around these people that you can feel their hopes and struggles. You can see yourself walking the streets of Chinatown, as it forms and grows over the years. You marvel at how visionary and bold they were. On one hand, you see the harsh treatment of inde ...more
Mar 12, 2010 Ellen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Long but spellbinding true story of a Chinese immigrant to the US in the 19th century told by his great granddaughter. The patriarch works on the railroad that was being built from California east to Utah where the eastern tracks were joined with the western to create the first cross country railroad. Too smart to be just coolie labor, he becomes a merchant fairly quickly, then soon expands his business to sveral shops and factories. Along the way, he and succeeding generations marry white Ameri ...more
Feb 15, 2014 Lisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having read "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" and "Peony in Love", I looked forward to reading "On Gold Mountain" by Lisa See. This seems to be one of her earliest books and it's the immigration and assimilation story of the Chinese and Chinese mixed with Caucasion part of her family. The book was spotty. Parts of it were very compelling and read like a novel. Other parts felt like laundry lists especially when she talked about the various businesses her relatives had. Nevertheless, for the most ...more
Mary Anne
I debated between 2 and 3 stars on this one. Parts of the story were very interesting and I learned a lot of history of Chinese immigrants and what they put up with and how they were treated. I liked the fact that the book followed multiple generations and how the family evolved and changed after immigrating. But I also found a lot of it confusing. Partly the multiple names for one person was confusing and also the overall number of people. Most of the book moved pretty well except for the last ...more
Ann Evans
Oct 09, 2011 Ann Evans rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The wonderful, poignant, fascinating story of the Chinese who populated this country starting in the late 1800s, and how they - and their children and children's children - have succeeded, failed, and added so much to this country's history. This follows the story of Lisa See's (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan) ancestors - in particular her great-grandfather - as they struggled to maintain their sense of family and their love of China - while slowly, slowly assimilating into the fabric of America ...more
Willa Grant
Jan 26, 2010 Willa Grant rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a wonderful book about one of California's historical families. I had seen a picture of Fong See & his wife Letticie at the Autry Museum and wondered about such an odd pairing. A Chinese man & a white woman marrying at the turn of the last century was highly unusual to say the least. I was fascinated not because their actions were unusual (because their family problems & joys were very much like everyone else's), but because of the authors desire to explain to herself & ...more
Oct 17, 2015 Donna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I enjoyed this. I loved the historical elements. On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family is a nonfiction book written by Lisa See about her family's history and their immigration to the US. It is hard to believe some of the hardships thrust upon the American Chinese by the US government.
Julie Reynolds
May 11, 2010 Julie Reynolds rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What an amazing story of ambition, love, family honor and tenacity - over many generations. See has done a remarkable job of writing rich stories but with distance that belies her family ties. Personally, I was struck many times as I read this book about the irony of my timing. Some days I didn't know what was worse - the outrage I felt with the day's news or reading her account of the shameful immigration policies of our country (that I thought we had moved past).
Dec 23, 2015 Dominic rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: china
A very interesting book for anyone interested in many different things: history, American history, immigration, China, Chinese culture and family histories to name but a few.

As someone living in China and feeling the frustrations of being different and a minority (for the first time in my life), it really put things in perspective. Life for me is obviously so much easier than it was for the first immigrants to America, but the anecdotes and stories of real life people's experiences really broug
Janet McCord
Jun 15, 2014 Janet McCord rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
While essentially a vanity press-type account of the story of the author's family back to her great-grandfather, it is saved and made interesting by the fact that it tells the story of an immigrant Chinese/American family--and luckily, the family had a very interesting story to tell. The book is worth reading for the story, which, in many cases, goes against the norm and the author tells it warts and all without holding anything back. The fact that the family is homogenized and blended with not ...more
Jul 06, 2014 Vivien rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book for the writing and the interesting topic. Early California history is such a veritable tapestry of cultures and the many unique, strong minded individuals who often did not allow convention dictate their actions. These people created a unique California culture that still draws people here from all over, but it is also deceptive, often hiding how driven many people are to succeed, and only showing our outer "laid back" reputation.
I thought she portrayed the business people,
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Lisa See is a Chinese-American author. Her books include Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005), Dragon Bones, and On Gold Mountain. She was named the 2001 National Woman of the Year, by the Organization of Chinese American Women. She lives in Los Angeles.

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