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

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  9,032 ratings  ·  719 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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 ·  9,032 ratings  ·  719 reviews

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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
Marcy prager
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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).
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...
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
Ann L.
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in Chinese Culture and Chinese history in the U.S.
Recommended to Ann by: Book Ender's Club-Upland Library
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
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.
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
I love Lisa See's fiction and I found this memoir interesting. I learned a lot more about the immigration of Chinese and the forming of the West Coast. I found that part of the book fascinating. But at times the book just dragged for me. Other reviewers say that this feels like a novel--but it never feels like one to me. Not totally pleasure reading.

Near the end of the book, Ms. See summarizes all of her relatives lives as in who they married, where they lived, and how many children they had. Th
Jane Mettee
Jul 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Lisa See does in depth research even for her novels. She is an amazing researcher and writer.
This is her family history beginning in China in the late 1800s. The story begins with her great grandfather coming to California and working as an herbalist to care for the men putting in the railroad. He returns to China and later, his son, her grandfather immigrates to Gold Mountain (America) and settles in Los Angeles and becomes a very successful merchant selling antiques, art and collectables impo
Yvonne Flint
Jan 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've been a Lisa See fan since Snow Flower and the Secret Fan but hadn't read her family's story. She focuses primarily on her great-grandfather's life as the arc of the story, including the three generations of Caucasian women who married into this sprawling Chinese-American family. A fascinating story of immigration, adaptation, and melding cultures, she weaves the tales told by relatives with her own research, heart and imagination. It is mainly a story, not a history, yet this Angeleno spent ...more
Mar 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
May 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 05, 2012 rated it liked it
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
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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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