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Gold Mountain Blues Paperback – 25 May 2017
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There are few writers who can fuse the stories of China and those of foreign lands together as seamlessly as Ling Zhang... I believe Ling Zhang will become an outstanding one among those Chinese writers who persevere in using Chinese language in their writings while living overseas. -- Mo Yan, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature
A heart-breaking family saga in the epic storytelling tradition of Wild Swans chronicling the lives of five generations of a Chinese family transformed by the promise of a better life in Canada.See all Product description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)
The multi-generational epic starts with Amy Smith, the fourth generation of a Chinese immigrant, who visits her family mansion in China. Among the different artefacts found in the house, an opium pipe helps trace back to the early years of the Fong family and their eldest son, Ah-Fat's youth as a farm boy in Hoi Ping County of Guangdong Province. To help his family out of poverty, Ah-Fat leaves for Gold Mountain. His pigtail cut is a sign of cultural conflict, but not because of the Xinhai Revolution. Then a woman's old jacket and pair of silk stockings tell the story of Ah-Fat who returns to his hometown for an arranged marriage several years later.
Reading the letters discovered in the house, Amy learns about Ah-Fat's life in Vancouver and his wife with two children in Hoi Ping. Years later, Kam Shan, their eldest son joins his father farming in Canada. Kam Shan is, by inadvertence, involved in Dr. Sun Yat-sen's revolution, and the loss of his pigtail leads to his temporary disappearance. The second son, Kam Ho, also joins his father in Canada. During the Second World War Kam Ho enlists in Canadian Army and dies in France.
The photo Amy has brought with her links to the story of her mother, Yin Ling, the third generation of The Fong family, and Amy herself as the third generation of the unmarried women in the Fong Family. The reason for being unmarried is either being rejected by Chinese traditions or objecting the traditions. The novel ends with Amy making a surprising decision.
The epic portrays a historically true picture of the Fong family that gradually becomes affluent in the village as the financial support provided by their family members through hard work in Gold Mountain at the cost of the family dispersion. After the Chinese communists' takeover, the lives of the three generations of the Fong family come to a violent end in a rink, leaving the five-story mansion haunted for decades.
The novel is developed with historical facts and events, such as building the Canadian Pacific Railway, early years of Chinatowns in Victoria and Vancouver, the Chinese head tax, Sun Yat-sen's Revolution, the Sino-Japanese War and the Land Reform Movement in China.
The setting is sophisticated. Through Amy Smith's eyes, the storyline goes back and forth between the present and past and between China and Canada. This story isn't only about the Chinese Canadian family, but also about this family's relationships with Caucasians and Native Indians.
Gold Mountain Blues is one of the best novels I've ever read, emotionally touching and compelling, with an intriguing plot, dramatic scenes and intricate characters. Suspense and the O. Henry-style surprise are built throughout the novel.
If you enjoy this novel, you would like to read the following novels: The Rice Sprout Song by Eiling Chang, The Field of Life and Death & Tales of Hulan River by Hong Xiao and One Hundred Years of Solitude (P.S.) by Gabriel García Márquez.
Review by Marlene Ritchie
I'm a student of Chinese culture and every-day life, so I was eager to read Ling Zhang's Gold Mountain Blues, the English translation by Nicky Harman. The novel chronicles four generations of the Fong family originally from Guangdong Province in southern China. Some family members immigrated to Canada (Gold Mountain) to make a living and some remained wedded to the soil of Spur-On-Village. The reader is continually surprised by sudden changes in direction taken by the family member whose life is being described. Scenes are pictured with detailed descriptions, often employing colourful metaphors or similes that set a clear background for the happenings. E.g. (pg. 9) "...the staircase looked like a ribcage with the intestines rotted away." (pg. 102) Describing the porters carrying trunks of presents from Gold Mountain: "They were filing along the narrow village street like an undulating black centipede so long that you could not see its head or its tail, enveloped in clouds of dust which they were kicking up beneath their feet." Through actions and conversations the main characters become real. As is human nature, some characters stimulate sympathy, and, even though the author makes no effort to persuade us, some stimulate annoyance because we judge their decisions. Until the fourth generation, China is home to the Fongs who live in Canada, and they constantly plot to return. Actions demonstrate that loyalty means to suffer deprivation to financially support country and family, that work, usually without pleasure, dominates life. Security means owning property, which is a driving force of the Fongs in China and Canada. Respect as defined in the teachings of Confucius is demonstrated in the interplay between husband and wife, parent and child, toward ancestors, in the work place and with the government. Ultimately I became transfixed--found it difficult to put the book down. Ling Zhang has composed a masterful work.
Amy, the fourth generation Fong returns to China and uncovers her family's past. Her great grandfather, Fong Tak Fat/Ah Fat, age fifteen, becomes head of his household after his father's death and goes with his cousin to Gold Mountain (Canada) to join the coolies building the CP Rail (1881-1885). The lives of her parents and grandparents living on two continents are poignantly influenced by events in China, Canada and elsewhere in the world: the building of the railroad across Canada (1881-1885) when 6,500 Chinese men were employed directly by the railroad, The $50 Head Tax on all Chinese immigrants to Canada in 1885 ( which increased to $100 and then to $500 amounting to two year's wages), The Chinese Immigration Act forbidding citizenship to Chinese people, 1923-1947, in China the Sino-Japanese war, the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the new Nationalist Government , and then the Communist takeover with repercussions against landowners, the First World War and the Japanese invasion in conjunction with the Second World War.
At times the reader is asked to accept the fantastic; the improbable that is too outlandish to fit this narrative, which otherwise seems plausible. Some misinformation may have happened during translation. A few examples follow: (page ix) A pair of 100 year-old panty hose is found. (Pantyhose originated in the 1960s.) Google: Pantyhose Boing Boing. The pantyhose reference may be a mistake because later (pg. 90) stockings are described as "sheer silk". (pg. 328) A supermarket appears. (The first supermarket selling a wide variety of items, and not just self serve groceries, was opened by Michael .J. Cullen, August 4, 1930 in N.Y.C.) Google: Wikipedia, Supermarket, History. (pg. 301) Taken to court over use of manure in 1915 as a Public Health issue . Very doubtful . Google: First Public Health Department in B.C. to see Nanaimo (B.C.) Board of Health, Act of 1893 listing areas of concern and Public Health in Ontario--no mention of fertilizer or manure uses in the lists of Public Health concerns. The translation of the letters penned by Ah Fat and his son Kam Ho are sophisticated and often elegant, yet both men had only elementary education. Their letters seem out of character. (pg. 41) "Ah Fat could read a few characters, so writing everyone's letters home fell to him." Kam Ho was first educated with his brother in a Christian mission school in China and later by tutors. (pg. 227) At age 13 he wrote a letter for his mother; at age 15 he immigrated to Canada. How many Chinese characters would those men have learned and remembered through the years? (There are 48,000 characters in the 1916 Chinese Dictionary, which was published before simplification of Chinese characters took place in 1956 and 1964. Today in China a literate person must know between 2,000 and 3,000 characters.) One son living in the Canadian outback acquired a Kodak Brownie camera and used it to take pictures, which he sold. According to the story (pg. 279) the camera could take one hundred and seventeen pictures at one time. Google: Kodak Brownie History. Each roll of film for that camera would have produced 8 or 12 pictures. Where could he acquire silver halide faced film and how would he develop it in the backwoods?
Enough said. Read the book and judge the facts and my interpretations by comparing with other literature on the market. It is a good read.
From Disapearing Moon Cafe, (1990) pg.3
In grave danger, a young Chinese man is rescued and then cared for by a beautiful girl, Kelora, of rare Chinese/Native heritage.
From Gold Mountain Blues, (2011) pp. 256-285
In grave danger, a young Chinese man is rescued and then cared for by a beautiful girl, Sundance, of rare Chinese/Native heritiage.