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Thousand Pieces of Gold

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  1,713 ratings  ·  221 reviews
A reissue of the classic biographical novel that has sold more than 200,000 copies

Lalu Nathoy’s father calls his thirteen-year-old daughter his treasure, his “thousand pieces of gold,” yet when famine strikes northern China in 1871, he is forced to sell her. She is sold first to a brothel, then to a slave merchant bound for America. In a new country, she is given the name
Paperback, 352 pages
Published August 25th 2004 by Beacon Press (first published January 1st 1981)
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Average rating 3.79  · 
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 ·  1,713 ratings  ·  221 reviews

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This is an utterly delightful book. I recommend it.

You need different books for different moods. This book will make you happy. I think it's because it is optimistic, that isn't to say bad things are excluded from its pages. That is far from true. The book is exciting - bandits, a fire, shootings.

This is a biographical novel about the Chinese woman Lalu Nathoy (1853-1933), sold to bandits by her beloved father for the mere sum of two bags of seeds. I intentionally wrote “beloved father”. He wa
Mar 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book, not only because of the good writing, but because Polly Bemis, the 13 year old girl, lived in Warren City, Idaho, where my maternal grandfather was born. My great grandfather and my grandfather knew both her and her husband Charlie Bemis. So, I have stood on the steps of her house in Warren and feel as though her history is also a part of my family's history. ...more
Alka Joshi
Dec 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
If you've never heard of this book, it's probably because it was first published in 1981, before the blockbuster success of books like The Joy Luck Club and Red Azalea expanded our understanding of Chinese American culture. This book is a biography of Lalu Nathoy, a Chinese girl sold into slavery and brought to San Francisco. Forced to work in a brothel, auctioned to the owner of a saloon and given away in a poker game, Lalu still manages to cling to a fierce sense of her worth. Her eventual vic ...more
Aug 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book, both as a bit of Idaho history and as a well told, and unique story. I read it while I hiked through the Frank Church Wilderness, where the Salmon River flows and near where the story primarily takes places. I read the ebook version which included an essay added later after publication in which the author explained in detail how she compiled the history and facts to tell Polly Bemis's story, told as a biographical novel. It's worth finding that version, not only to un ...more
Oct 02, 2015 rated it liked it
I’ve read a lot of books about pioneer women, but this one is quite different. It is the story of a real life woman named Polly Bemis who lived in Idaho during the latter part of the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Polly was born in China but was sold by her father to keep the family from starving. She eventually was purchased by a Chinese businessman living in America. Polly was very independent and after she was became free from her owner, she became quite successful herself. She opened and ran a boa ...more
Bookworm LLC
Aug 23, 2017 rated it liked it
I read this book because it was a selection for my book club. I probably would have never picked it up on my own to read. Having said that, I found it interesting and an easy story to get involved in.
This book is about a young Chinese girl who, in the 1800's, is bought away from her family and forced into slavery and a life of hardships and discouragements.It follows the life of the girl all the way into the 1900's, and her journey to America where she finally becomes free. It is considered a b
Jul 14, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: dnf
Dnf p. 181. The story is good, but the writing let's it down. Had I been stuck on a plane or something I'd have finished it. The story is worth telling, but it deserves a better telling than what it received. ...more
Amy Lientz
Aug 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
After whitewater rafting many times down the Main Salmon and stopping by the Polly Bemis ranch, I always wanted to read this story. I was not disappointed. She was more resilient than I could have imagined. She had grit, smarts, health, and a big heart- everything needed to survive the weather,
Hardship, discrimination. I quite enjoyed learning of her culture and then learning about the early Chinese immigrants in Idaho. I found the book to be an easy read and closed the last chapter knowing I le
Joy H.
Mar 27, 2011 marked it as watched-film-only
Added 3/27/11.
_Thousand Pieces of Gold_ (1983) by Ruthanne Lum McCunn

GR reviewer, Sarah, wrote: "This is about one of Idaho's most famous pioneers, Polly Bemis.".
GR reviewers indicate this is easy reading and interesting, but the writing is poor.

Adapted to film (1991):
"In 1880's China, young Lalu is sold into marriage by her impoverished father. Rather than becoming a bride, Lalu ends up in an Idaho gold-mining town
Hamzah Al Asadulloh
Feb 28, 2012 rated it liked it
McCunn's descriptions of the novel's settings are incredibly vivid and illustrative; her choice of words are definitely not superfluous which gives a touch of simplicity to the tale she weaves. The emotions she tries to capture of her characters in the novel are portrayed perfectly through her words, most notably the scenes that involved intense movements and actions filled with tension and suspense.

However, it is important to comment on her failure to mention worldwide events, such as the Great
Nov 16, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
11/16: I seem to always need a novel going, or at least some form of firm narrative. I'm on pg. 50 as of last night: incredibly zippy reading, not terribly wonderful writing either, though I am interested in the transportation aspect--the arrival in a new place and time that is perfectly and uniquely unfamiliar to me. I found myself wiggling my toes, grateful for the freeing, unbound feeling of the body during pregnancy. I may be wearing strange apparatuses (see: braces on both wrists, Bella Ban ...more
Ana-Maria Bujor
This was an interesting story that kept me reading. it has a bit of everything - action, tragedy, some cultural aspects, romance and a pretty interesting main character. The story also happens to be true, even is some aspects are fictional. I wish other characters were a bit more complex, but for what it is, this book is a good introduction to the relations between USA and China in the 19th and 20th century, to the slave trade from China and the gold rush. It's a nice, light read, even though ma ...more
Jun 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This was the first book I read by this author and had inspired me to read all her books. The saga of Lalu, who was her father's "thousand pieces of gold", sold by him and ended up in the US, was riveting. I remember sighing after finishing the book and wanting more. ...more
Aug 19, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010, film-adaptation
In three hundred pages, it's probably difficult to really provide deep narrative of a woman's 80 year life-span, so I won't judge the disjointed story too harshly. The stories of women through history who toiled and slaved are a dime a dozen. But, I'm glad I read one of them. Very touching. ...more
This book was just okay. Interesting story of a woman brought from China to California (and then to Idaho) during the gold rush era. The writing was juvenile, but the story kept interest.
Nov 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I was really surprised by how much I loved this book! For me it was kind of a mix between These is My Words and Lonesome Dove. This was a fast paced, high adventure, romantic pioneer story.
Nov 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book has pictures - I like pictures.
Tamara Evans
May 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“A Thousand Pieces of Gold” is a story of thirteen year old Lalu Nathoy from China who over time and circumstances transforms into Idahoan Polly Bemis. Ally’s story is one of resilience, determination and steadfastness. What makes this book even more extraordinary is the events presented in the books is a true account of one of the first Chinese American pioneers in Idaho.

The book consists of seven parts and is introduced by a photo. Part one begins in 1865-1872. In this part of the book, the r
Jan 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the simple story of a Chinese woman named Lalu Nathoy who lived from 1853 to 1933. It is called a biographical memoir but is written as historical fiction. The author has kept the essential story of Lalu's life, who is later known as Polly Bemis, as accurate as possible but has added a few fictitious characters to enhance the story.

Lalu's story begins when she is 13 years old and lives on a poor farm in Northern China. When she is born her father calls her his "thousand pieces of gold" b
May 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
This fast read was really interesting to me. As a 13 year old girl, Lalu is forcibly sold to a bandit, then to a brothel, then brought to America and sold to a Chinese saloon owner in Idaho, where her name is changed to Polly. A local man wins her in a poker game, as an effort to free her. She appreciates him and eventually comes to love him. Together they were among the first pioneers in the Salmon Canyon. Their cabin there has been deemed important to Idaho's heritage and in 1988 was listed in ...more
Thousand Pieces of Gold is a fictional biography of a Chinese woman who was sold by her father in 1871 and brought to California to work in a brothel. Lalu Nathoy, who came to be known as Polly Bemis, is a real person and lived until 1933 when she died in Idaho.

The title comes from the expression Lalu's father had used to describe her value to him before he was forced to sell her to survive famine. He called her his 'Thousand Pieces of Gold.' Unfortunately, when he did sell her he only received
Jun 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a hard book to read, since it is based on a real person and real events, but I still greatly enjoyed it.

Be warned that there are two instances that get just a little too sexually graphic (at least, for me), but those instances are one line each, and the book never goes into actual detail. Also, this book does deal with rape and the sex trade.

As for the story itself, I love the way Lalu's life is presented, and how she handles everything that comes at her. She was a very strong woman, a
Jun 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I became familiar with Lalu/ Polly Nathoy in my senior year of college while enrolled in a Women of the West history class.

The whitewashing of United States history is such that to learn the plight of Chinese women in the mid to late 1800s was not a complete surprise, I’d heard whispers of such, but was still unfamiliar enough that Polly’s story stood out to me in my class.

We watched the film adaptation of this book and her story has been stuck in my head ever since. I’ve rewatched the movie at
Marilyn Mc
Jul 09, 2017 rated it liked it
I read this book because it was a selection for my book club. I probably would have never picked it up on my own to read. Having said that, I found it interesting and an easy story to get involved in.
This book is about a young Chinese girl who, in the 1800's, is bought away from her family and forced into slavery and a life of hardships and discouragements.It follows the life of the girl all the way into the 1900's, and her journey to America where she finally becomes free. It is considered a
Nov 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Although it is listed as a “work of fiction” it is a historical biography based on a real person, Lalu Nathoy. Lalu was the daughter of a farmer in China who was forced to sell her after prolonged drought ruined his farm. Lalu was sold to a slave trader who brought her to America and then sold her to a brothel owner in the Idaho mine area. Her name was changed to Polly and she managed to survive with dignity. She eventually lived with Charlie Bemis who was in love with her, and respected her tal ...more
Carolyn Fitzpatrick
While technically historical fiction, due to made up dialogue and insight into the protagonist's thoughts, the author stuck very close to the historical record in making this novel. As a result, the narrative doesn't flow as smoothly as in a purely fictional work. We jump around in time, and there isn't much of a theme tying everything together. Except for "life for Chinese people was really tough in the Old West especially if you are a woman." Technicalities of the law are explained well enough ...more
Félise Esposito
Jan 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
True stories are the best! This one has its fill of sadness, though. Also, I kept thinking I'd skipped a section by turning too many pages, or that I'd missed things because of the mental fog that comes with being sick, but the way this biographical novel is structured is to jump from the middle of one situation to the middle of another scene without following the protagonist through every transition. Movies are cut like that, but I hadn't really seen it in a book before. This lady lived such an ...more
Jul 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Northern China in the 1860s and 1870s is a tough place to grow up. Between bandits and soldiers who often act worse than the bandits, Lalu's life definitely has its ups and downs. After a severe drought strikes, Lalu's father is forced to sell her to protect the rest of the family. A twist of fate finds her on her way to America, sold to a saloonkeeper in gold country. Hopeful to someday be free, Lalu doesn't understand a country where blacks are free but Chinese can't even own property.

Based on
Jul 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Read this several years ago and attributed it to another book with the same title by Adeline Yen Mah.

The story of a young girl who's father, although he calls her his treasure, ultimatly sells her when the family face famine in China in the 1870's. She ends up sold again, comes to America where she is enslaved until she is eventually lost (and ultimatly won) in a poker game. From her very grim beginnings, Lalu/Polly triumphs as an inspiring woman - a true heroine.
sssnoo reads
Solid historical fiction. I rate the book 3.5 stars and round up because it tells a unique story based on the life of a real Chinese immigrant woman living in Idaho from the late 1800s to the early 1900s (Polly Bemis). This checks of Idaho on my third US state reading challenge. I had to look hard for an Idaho story with a BIPOC theme/character. But this fits the bill and was a nice story to listen to.
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