REVIEW: Gold Mountain by Sharon Cullars
Dear Ms. Cullars,
I can’t recall whose blog I was reading when this book was mentioned but I’m glad I found out about it. A Negro heroine and a Chinese hero in 1865? Sign me up.
“In 1865, the hope for gold has spurred many to seek their fortunes in California, the place the Chinese call Gum San or “Gold Mountain.” Amidst this backdrop, Quiang, a new Chinese immigrant, works the dangerous rails hoping to save enough money to send home to his parents. In town, Leah and Clara, two enterprising women from New York, have plans of their own to grow a restaurant and laundry business. However, both plans go awry when Quiang and Leah meet one fateful day. What starts as a budding attraction soon grows into tumultuous desire despite the cultural and language barriers between them.
Initially resistant, Leah succumbs to passion following a tragic loss that leaves her vulnerable and alone. With hopes for a future that now includes Leah, Quiang embarks on a perilous path as he leaves the railroad behind for a more profitable position as a courier for The Tong, henchmen for the dangerous Triad. Quiang soon finds that navigating the secretive life of a courier brings more danger than he has ever faced on the railroad, dangers that not only threaten to tear him and Leah apart, but may cost them their lives as well.”
The book begins in media res with a scene showing the dangerous job Quiang and the other Chinese workers do. It also makes clear how little they were valued and how much less they were paid. Leah and Clara are also outside the mainstream. They have more say in what they do but the work is also hard plus they’re women alone in a town mainly populated by men and have learned to keep a shotgun handy. Though you avoid info dumps about them and flesh out Leah and Quiang slowly over the course of the book, I would still have enjoyed just a little bit more about before they each reached the mining town. As well, the book moves quickly past their escape from the villain and jumps far into their marriage. It’s nice to know how well they’re doing, that the family has grown and to be left with a positive feeling about their future but I would like to have seen just a touch more – their wedding, their initial time in Colorado…a little bit more.
The detailing is nicely done and makes it easy to imagine the rough and tumble town. I like how you didn’t attempt to shoehorn foreign words and phrases into the dialog but instead used plain English for Quiang and the other Chinese characters leaving the reader to assume that they’d be speaking fluently in their own language. Neither Leah nor Quaing are looking for a romance or even merely a friendship with the other. Thank goodness there’s no “one night of love to last a lifetime” jump into the fire used to justify bringing them together too soon. As their relationship progresses though, both Leah and Quaing are also well aware of the societal views and challenges they could face as a couple.
At the halfway point, I was wondering how you’d manage to get these two together in the face of the odds against them. The story is well plotted and the events flow together in a way to lead Leah and Quaing to their destiny together. And yet, I still wanted more. It appears you’ve done plenty of research about life in the mining towns and the challenges which faced Negros and Coolies (your choice of descriptions) but even though these are slipped quietly into the threads of the story, they felt more like a stone skipping across the surface. Sort of a “Here’s something interesting about life then” but these will only briefly be mentioned then little more is said about them or how they affects the main characters again. Generally there are at least a few scenes in any book which seem like merely page padders to me but this is a book which I would have loved to have seen expanded. B-