Paul Yee,
Dead Man's Gold & Other Stories
(Groundwood, 2002)

Dead Man's Gold & Other Stories is a collection of 10 original stories written by Paul Yee. Yee had two intentions in writing these stories. First, he wanted to provide insight into the lives (and deaths) of the thousands of Chinese immigrants who came to live and work in America in the 100 years from the Gold Rush to the 1950s. Second, he wanted to create a "New World mythology" of immigrant stories, flavored with ghosts and other supernatural occurrences.

The Chinese immigrants were coming to "Gold Mountain," originally referring to California as a result of the Gold Rush. As time passed and immigrants came for non-prospecting jobs (such as logging and coal mining), "Gold Mountain" came to refer to British Columbia as well. Eventually, the term was used to refer to all of western North America.

These stories are presented roughly in chronological order, starting with the the eponymous story during the mid-1800s Gold Rush to the final story, "Reunited," set in 1955. Each story focuses on one of a variety of occupations filled by Chinese immigrants, such as gold prospectors, loggers, coal miners, peddlers, laundry workers and farmers. Common themes shared by many of the stories are family duty, hard work and sending money back home to the family in China. Following these traits -- or ignoring them -- played important parts in many of the stories.

Most of the stories start in China and explore the reasons why the immigrants come to America. Usually, they come to make a fortune and send money back to their family in China. Most dream of returning -- wealthy and powerful -- to China. As one might expect, this seldom happened.

While most of the stories dealt with the work performed by the immigrants -- "Dead Man's Gold" was about prospectors, "Sky-High" was about loggers -- one story was notable in differing from this. "Seawall Sightings" concerned the problems faced by Chinese immigrants when the United States severely limited the numbers of immigrants allowed to enter the country.

Coming from a Western culture, I am not an expert in Chinese literature or folklore so I can't say how these stories fit with others in that genre. However, I found these stories rather bland. Despite the different settings and the difference in professions portrayed, there was a certain sameness among the stories. Perhaps these stories fit the idiom, but the collection didn't do it for me. For Chinese literature, I'd still go with Li Po, Cao Xueqin, Tu Fu or Barry Hughart.

review by
Wayne Morrison

12 May 2007

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