Thousand pieces of gold : a biographical novel

by Ruthanne Lum McCunn

Hardcover, 1981




San Francisco, CA : Design Enterprises of San Francisco, c1981.


Lalu Nathoy's father called his thirteen-year-old daughter his treasure, his "thousand pieces of gold," yet when famine strikes northern China in 1871, he is forced to sell her. Polly, as Lalu is later called, is sold to a brothel, sold again to a slave merchant bound for America, auctioned to a saloonkeeper, and offered as a prize in a poker game. This biographical novel is the extraordinary story of one woman's fight for independence and dignity in the American West.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Limelite
Lalu Nathoy becomes Polly Bemis as she makes her way from slavery in China to eventual freedom in Idaho in this rather thin fictional biography of an emigrant pioneer of the American West. The best parts of the writing are in the first half of the book, covering Lalu's childhood. The most vivid and
Show More
complex character is Polly's American husband, Charlie Bemis, although McCunn seems to avoid his gambling habit beyond the redemptive scene in which he "wins" Polly from Hong King's clutches when they live in the mining town of Warren.

This is a book that withstands skimming -- a reader can get everything the book has to offer without reading every word. None of the characters are well and deeply drawn; their descriptions are more like those in playbooks than what one expects in a well developed novel that focuses on a single person's life.

A novel this direct is probably more in tune with the young adult market and should be marketed as such. Because of the exotic nature of the settings and the heroine and because of its incidental history, younger readers will find the material adventurous and informative -- a great way to acquire perspective and inspiration from reading the story of a valiant Chinese American who lived vividly on both sides of the Pacific.
Show Less
LibraryThing member edog5948
I'd heard the author intentionally kept the reading level at a 6th grade level so all Chinese Americans could take pride in their heritage.
Also, living in Idaho, the names of places mentioned are still around today.
LibraryThing member thisismebecca
You would be hard pressed to find a heroine stronger than Lalu/Polly. She endures hardships and trials that could bring most anyone down. But not Polly. She perseveres. She is a pillar of strength and the poster woman for determination.

Thousand Pieces of Gold touches on some very important issues:
Show More
the treatment of the Chinese in the nineteenth-century American West; the issue of slavery in nineteenth-century China and America; the immigrant experience; free will vs. fate; the role of women in the 19th century; and mixed-race relationships.

The writing in this book flows beautifully, yet it is packed with intensity. It is packed with intensity, yet it is also at times playful and sweet. I instantly liked Lalu. I was drawn into her story, into her character. It was a very beautiful and important read, in my opinion, and I am very glad I read it.


"Don't you understand you cannot escape your fate?"

"For the Gold Mountains they had described was not the America she would know. This: the dingy basement room, the blank faces of women and girls stripped of hope, the splintered boards beneath her on the auction block. This was her America."

"I remember one time a man bring a performing monkey to my village,' Polly said. 'The man divide the audience in two and give each side one end of a rope to hold. Then the monkey walk carefully back and forth between the two sides. At each end, he stop a little bit, but he cannot stay, and so he walk again until he so tired, he fall.' She pointed down to Warrens, so clearly divided into two camps. 'Sometimes I feel like that monkey."
Show Less
LibraryThing member theresa10
The novel, Thousand Pieces of Gold, by Ruthanne Lum McCunn encompasses that despite wherever you reside, your homeland will always be with you and love will come in the most unexpected ways. In the beginning, when famine strikes her home, she is sold by the blackmail of thieves. She deals with
Show More
struggling for her life, and with that, she's sold to a brothel and then to a slave merchant going to America. Throught the middle, after reaching America, she's auctioned off to a salon keeper and despite being a huge hit, she slowly scavages gold to go back to her family. However, she learns she will never go back, and has basically become a slave. Fortunately, her soon to be lover, Charlie, wins her from her owner in a poker game and with him, she's now free. Free to be with him, and he will give her anything she lusts for. 257/307
Show Less
LibraryThing member Phong96
The novel, Thousand Pieces of Gold by McCunn, Ruthanne Lum encompasses anything can happen if you work for it. In the beginning, Polly was sold by her father and she kept being sold by 5 people. Throughout the middle, she perseveres through trying to buy her freedom with the gold she heard that's
Show More
around. At the end, she end up in the Warren and died.(352/352)
Show Less
LibraryThing member LynnB
This novel is based on a real person, Polly Bemis. Polly was sold by her desparate father in China, and brought to America where she was auctioned off to a saloon-keeper in the then-pioneer stat of Idado. The novel tells of her life, and her determination to win her freedom.

The novel portrays life
Show More
in the gold rush times in Western America, especially the treatment of Chinese immigrants. One especially poignant moment was when Polly learned from a black man that slavery had been abolished, but that emancipation did not apply to her.

Polly is a strong woman and I found myself instanly drawn to her. I did find the writing a bit lacking in depth, but am told the author did this deliberately to make the book accessible to a wider audience.
Show Less
LibraryThing member pinklady60
During the late 19th Century, when a Chinese farmer gambles on growing winter wheat and loses everything, he sells his 13-year-old daughter Lalu into slavery. At the hands of a slave merchant bound for America, she ends up as a prize in a San Francisco poker game. This historical novel is based on
Show More
the life of Polly Bemis, a real-life Chinese immigrant woman who makes her place in the Old West.

The book chronicles the struggles of Chinese immigrants in the United State at the time, when they were often treated like slaves. It’s an inspiring story of determination with interesting cultural details, of both China and America during the Gold Rush.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Quiltinfun06
The perfect book for me is one that introduces me to someone I didn't know. Polly Bemis was an incredible Chinese woman who accomplished amazing things for someone her size. She may have been slight in stature but she was BIG in determination and fortitude. Originally published in 1981 and
Show More
republished this year, it deserves the attention it has always gotten. No only is the book historically correct and informative; it is well written. I definitely make a recommendation for women in particular to read. It illustrates what a woman can accomplish when she puts her mind to it.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Bookaddict45
What initially drew me to this book was it's unique and intriguing title. I liked how the significance behind the title is revealed early on in the book. Overall, I liked the story of Lalu/Polly and the that fact that it is based on the life of a real person is fascinating. Lalu's story is
Show More
inspirational and empowering. She was a simple farm girl from China who unfortunately was kidnapped/ forcefully sold from her family by bandits, then sold to a brothel and then to a saloon keeper. Eventually she gains her independence, develops into a strong resourceful person, and finds love.

To me Lalu's story felt rushed, and there was not much development or depth to the character as her story progresses. As a result, I did not find it too believeable. It was however, a quick read and you do gain a mini history lesson about the gold rush and the treatment of Chinese immigrants.
Show Less
LibraryThing member autumnesf
Novel based on the life of Polly Bemis. Polly was sold by her father in China to bandits, and sold again to a brothel, and sold again to a woman that brought her to the US to work in a saloon in the West. This was a quick and very interesting, yet sad read. You learn a little about girls in China
Show More
and then how Chinese were veiwed/treated in the US in the 1871 timeframe.
Show Less
LibraryThing member JanaRose1
Lalu, or Polly, as she is later called, is sold by her father when famine strikes China in the 1870’s. Sold to a merchant bound for America, Lalu is auctioned off to the highest bidder. The saloonkeeper who purchases her loses her in a poker game. Her lover, Charlie, won her in and gave her
Show More
freedom. The two moved to a remote location and built themselves a life.

I thought this book was a bit lackluster. It was missing large chunks of Lalu’s life, which could have made her more realistic and more interesting to read about. Overall, I thought this book was a bust.
Show Less
LibraryThing member little-sparrow
I’ve read a lot of books about pioneer women, but this one is quite different. It is the story of a real life woman named Polly Bemis who lived in Idaho during the latter part of the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Polly was born in China but was sold by her father to keep the family from starving.
Show More
She eventually was purchased by a Chinese businessman living in America. Polly was very indepedent and after she was became free from her owner, she became quite successful herself. She opened and ran a boarding house for many years, and then her own farm. While Polly was a very interesting character to read about, I think the book could have been a little more interesting. I felt like there were a lot of gaps in the story that could have been filled in and some of the characters could have been fleshed out a little more. However, I am glad I got a chance to reading about this woman who is just one of the many interesting people we have in our country’s history. I received this book from Library Thing in exchange for a review.
Show Less
LibraryThing member freckles1987
It's great to find a book about pioneer women in America that captures a whole new experience. Books about Asian-American pioneers are few and far between, and books about women are even scarcer. Just for the subject matter this book wins a lot of points. Yes, it's based on a true story, but it is
Show More
a novel. Our heroine Polly overcomes countless obstacles and has a gamut of fascinating experiences. I do wish each segment of her life was more thoroughly developed, as well as the characters. I thought that this fell a little flat as a novel, and was scarce on information for a biography. However, for a quick read this was very enjoyable and I loved a glimpse into American history that isn't often represented in popular media!
Show Less
LibraryThing member jovemako
I read this early last month (completely forgetting to write the review. oops!) and found it to be a quicker read than I initially thought it would be.
It was a good story. The font was large and plain enough that I thought this would have been targeted towards a high school level history class. I
Show More
got through it in less than a week. The chapters flowed together nicely made you loose track of how much you'd actually read.
The narrative reminded me a lot of Chinese Cinderella (another non-fiction story of Chinese history). The defining difference being this was set at in the early 1900's, and Chinese Cinderella was set during World War II. There are other differences too, but this is the main point that gets my opinion across.
I'd recommend it for anyone looking for a good history read.
Show Less
LibraryThing member susanbooks
A strange book that is well worth a read. McCunn based this novel on research of a real woman who emigrated from China. Because the documentation (citizenship papers, land deeds, etc) is spotty, her book is episodic, each section focusing around the few events we know happened. The first section,
Show More
which takes place in China, is enthralling, as is the second, which takes place in a Gold Rush town. After that, though, the episodes hang together less firmly and I had a hard time seeing how the character became who she did.

Nevertheless, even the parts of the book that were least successful for me were vividly interesting. I ordered another of her books as soon as I finished this one.
Show Less
LibraryThing member conniemcmartin
I loved this book. It was not as in-depth, historically, as I often like books to be, but the shortness and ease of it seemed just right to me in this instance. Lalu Nathoy/ Polly Bemis was an amazing woman and I believe the author did her justice. She brought her strength and character to life but
Show More
with such a simplistic style. For some reason the simplicity of the story – or maybe it was the strong heroine – reminded me a little of Their Eyes Were Watching God. It has been a while since I read that story, but something about this book just gave me the same sense. This book is incredibly sad and horrifying at times, yet I felt it was more a story of hope and inspiration than it was depressing.

Though it leans on the Young Adult side of fiction (aside from some quite graphic themes), this book will appeal to readers young and old, to anyone who enjoys reading books with strong female leads struggling to overcome adversity, Chinese in the early American west – or to anyone just looking for a good story.
Show Less
LibraryThing member NancyNo5
I won this book from Librarything in exchange for an honest review.

This is the story of Polly Bemis aka Lalu Nathoy who was sold into slavery by her father in 1871 China. The biography is written in a fictional style making it an easy and quick read.

Perhaps due to the author's writing style, the
Show More
story of Polly does come off as rushed and incomplete almost as it the author was trying to cram so many instances of Polly's life into 216 pages. I would have liked more detail of her life prior to coming to America and was underwhelmed by her life once married to Charlie Bemis. She appeared to live a life no different that any other married couple. She and Charlie loved each other, they fought, they made a home together and they were a pillar of their community. As such, I didn't find her story that interesting.

It was overall a decent book to read, just could have had more depth.
Show Less


Local notes

Inscribed to Naomi by author


Page: 0.5743 seconds