Gold Mountain Blues
by Ling Zhang is an extraordinary read and page turner. The novel is a fictional family saga set in China and Canada, spanning 125 years from 1879 to 2004, with vivid stories about life and death, love and hate of the Fong Family.
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, 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 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, Field of Life and Death and Tales of Hulan River
by Hong Xiao and One Hundred Years Of Solitude
by Gabriel García Márquez.