On Gold Mountain, Lisa See, St Martin's Press, 1995, 378 pp
Gold Mountain is the name that Chinese people have for the United States. Lisa See is the great-granddaughter of a Chinese man who came to the United States in 1866 to be the herbalist doctor for his countrymen who were building the railroads. By hard work, craftiness and good fortune this man, who came to be known as Fong See, rose above all the oppression and prejudice that America doled out to Chinese immigrants and created great wealth, a huge extended family and a legend.
On Gold Mountain is the story of this incredible family. Like most successful people, Fong See was no angel. He had strong ideas and a few prejudices of his own. He also married an American white woman as did several of his sons and grandsons. The family achieved much of the "American dream" while remaining far from the mainstream of American life.
At times I had trouble keeping track of all the family members, the locations both American and Chinese and the many businesses these people created. This was only due to my unfamiliarity with Chinese names, not to Lisa See's writing. She does an admirable job in making clear to the reader a tangled web of relationships and even secrets. I was particularly struck by the complete uphill climb it is for immigrants who come to America. Despite anything I have ever heard about our wonderful open arms, it is mostly true that those who got here first or have been here the longest (except of course the Native Americans) make it as difficult as possible for the ones who have just arrived.