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On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family

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3.94  ·  Rating details ·  9,870 ratings  ·  807 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, 394 pages
Published August 27th 1996 by Vintage Books (first published 1995)
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Average rating 3.94  · 
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KK
Jun 08, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
...more
Marcy
Jan 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Stephanie
Feb 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Cherrie
Jul 01, 2018 rated it liked it
I think this may be the first or one of the first non-fiction memoirs about a Chinese American family I’ve read. It reminds me of my dad's request to write our family's story. I have read some of See's fictional work and have always been a bit confused bc they seem to glorify the "olden days" in China prior to the Cultural Revolution (which I'm sure is worth glorifying in a political & social sense). I also did let my prejudice get ahead of me and I wondered why a white woman was so fixed on Chi ...more
Rachel Wagner
Aug 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Joy D
Lisa See has written her family’s history over the course of over one hundred years. The narrative traces back to the author’s great-great-grandfather, who traveled from China to California to reap the riches of “gold mountain” (as America was called in China). He worked as a laborer on the Transcontinental Railroad. In 1866, the author’s great-grandfather, settled in California. Lisa See examines the many family members’ hopes, motivations, struggles, business ventures through the generations. ...more
Kathleen Spearman
Oct 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Sarah
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
Julia
Jan 06, 2010 rated it it was ok
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 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Caly ☯ Crazy Book Lady
This was way too boring for me to continue. I love the idea of the book but it goes into way too much detail...
Theresa
It told the story of the Chinese in America through the eyes of one family.

Thus the author summarizes exactly what she accomplished with this amazing book, in the epilogue added to the 2012 reissue I just read. It's her family history that she tells, based on copious research and oral histories. I found it nearly impossible to put down, stretching out breaks from work and staying up way too late just to read more of this story of Chinese immigration in California.

'Gold Mountain' is the Chinese
...more
Lorraine
Sep 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Julie Reynolds
Dec 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
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). ...more
Christine
Apr 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Book Concierge
Subtitle: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of a Chinese-American Family.

This is See’s “biography” of her family, starting with her great-great-grandfather, Fong Dun Shung, who immigrated to America (“The Gold Mountain”) in 1861 as an herbalist / healer working for the railroad. He brought with him two of his four sons, who both worked as laborers helping to build the transcontinental railroad. His fourth son, Fong See, arrived in 1871 at age fourteen, and soon became an entrepreneur shopkeeper, with
...more
Ann L.
I probably would not of picked this book up to read if I had not decided to join my local book club this year. This is February's book for 2018 in which it will be discussed, and I'll be able to meet the author through Skype. I'm looking forward to that.

I'm really glad I read it, as I learned so much about the Chinese immigration here to the United States, and how they contributed to the city of Los Angeles, CA when Los Angeles just started out from the ground up. Being that I live right by Los
...more
audrey
This book is wild. It's like Sidney Sheldon's Master of the Game meets Sons of the Profits: There's No Business Like Grow Business. The Seattle Story, 1851-1901. First, to come clean, the book hits a bullseye with many of my reading interests: 19th century US history, California history (all), biographies and memoirs, culinary books.

It's all those things. And something else entirely.

What it is is it should be taught in California schools (of which I am an unfortunate graduate). There's a lot t
...more
Anita Lynch-Cooper
Jul 29, 2021 rated it really liked it
Lisa See recounts her chinese ancestors coming to America story. Her great great grandfather, Fong See, emigrated to search for his father and ended up being a successful merchant with four wives, two in China and two in the US. It's a fascinating story.

The author recounts the exclusionary laws against the chinese. They were not allowed to own property or marry a white person. Fong See's marriage to his white wife was contractual but not legal. The Chinese were not eligible for citizenship until
...more
Mary Anne
Mar 16, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Lisa
Feb 06, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Shari
May 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: dnf
This is a DNF (did not finish). I love Lisa See's novels, and am looking forward to reading The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. I love the history of the American West in the 1880's. This however, was an exhaustive history of her family's lineage dating back to the 1880's. It was okay in parts, but then almost ended up feeling like the "begats" in the Bible, where it kept including minutiae I wasn't interested in.

I was hoping to get more history of the area, conditions, and the building of the Ame
...more
Susan Liston
Quite a book. The amount of research that went into this is somewhat mind boggling. Lisa's Chinese great grandfather had such an incredible life, if he was a fictional character it would be a little bit hard to believe. I especially liked the first sections about railroads and the family establishing their stores. As it progressed it was of particular interest to me, being from Los Angeles, to read about the development of Chinatown. (although I got my usual agitation reading about the cavalier ...more
DeAnn
Oct 22, 2017 rated it liked it
I am a huge fan of Lisa See's fiction, but this one was tough for me to finish. I just seem to bog down in non-fiction. This is an interesting story of an extended Chinese/American family and early days in California. I'm sad that some of the same prejudice lives on today regarding immigrants. I wish everyone was given a fair shake in life regardless of your ethnic background.

I think this one could have used some editing to make it flow better, the print was so small too. I'm glad to have read i
...more
Lisa
Nov 13, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: ordered
I picked this up expecting another fiction book by Lisa See. So I was surprised to find it was the true story. Nevertheless it was fascinating to learn of her history and that of the other Chinese immigrants. The mixed marriage was so unusual at that time.
Joanne
Jul 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
Jenna
May 06, 2021 rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating book by one of my favorite authors. And sadly, it was very timely with the recent rise in anti-Asian violence.
Heather B.
May 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interesting and absorbing look at Lisa See’s family. It’s the sort of book I’d like to write about my own family history. Particularly interesting glimpse of early LA and Pasadena history.
Lori
Feb 03, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Shari Larsen
Jan 02, 2012 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
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47,326 followers
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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