Picks and Pans Review: On Gold Mountain

updated 11/20/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/20/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Lisa See

Unlike hundreds of thousands of his countrymen who flocked to Gold Mountain—the Chinese name for the United States—during the past century to seek their fortunes, Fong See succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. By the time the colorful Asian art dealer died, at age 100, in Los Angeles in 1957, he counted movie stars and moguls among his clients. He had raised a dozen children with four wives and had become one of the richest Chinese immigrants in his adopted homeland. And his accomplishments were all the more extraordinary at a time of such strong anti-Asian prejudice that laws barred marriages between Chinese and Caucasians, like his second wife, Letticie.

But that was not about to daunt a man who routinely finessed both immigration regulations and import duties, as Lisa See, great-granddaughter of the patriarch and Letticie, makes clear in this lovingly rendered dynastic saga. Using material culled from extensive interviews to expand the tales of Tong wars, prostitutes and lo fan (Caucasians or, literally, "white ghosts") that first fascinated her as a child in the dusky, tea-redolent recesses of the F. Suie One emporium, the author, daughter of novelist Carolyn See, paints a vivid tableau of a family and an era. Deeply felt, her story of culture and assimilation would likely make her ancestors proud. (St. Martin's Press, $24.95)

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