Wooden Fish Songs

Wooden Fish Songs

4.0 1
by Ruthanne Lum McCunn
     
 

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America's Chinese American history comes vividly to life in a novel about a real-life pioneer, Lue Gim Gong. After years in indentured servitude in the West and New England, Lue put his genius for plants to work in Florida, creating the orange hybrids that earned him national renown as a "plant wizard." Through the authentic and distinct voices of its narrators, the…  See more details below

Overview

America's Chinese American history comes vividly to life in a novel about a real-life pioneer, Lue Gim Gong. After years in indentured servitude in the West and New England, Lue put his genius for plants to work in Florida, creating the orange hybrids that earned him national renown as a "plant wizard." Through the authentic and distinct voices of its narrators, the novel provides a unique cross-cultural look at the lives of women of the late 19th century.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
McCunn's second novel (after Thousand Pieces of Gold) returns to a subject she treated in the nonfiction Chinese-American Portraits, as she again tells an affecting story of a lonely, dedicated life. This is a fictionalized biography (documented with well-researched details) of unsung immigrant horticulturist Lue Gim Gong, who died in 1925 after breeding superior Florida citruses. Lue's tale is recounted from the viewpoints of three 19th-century women: Sum Jui, his mother in Toishan, anxious for her son among America's ``foreign ghosts''; Fanny, the 40-ish fundamentalist spinster (and laudanum addict) in North Adams, Mass., who gives the teenaged Lue a home and a Christian education while falling in love with him; and Sheba, daughter of black slaves, who works with Lue in the citrus groves. The common theme is the appalling inhumanity endured by women, and sometimes by men, in all three cultures under the stress of cultural and religious notions. McCunn records Chinese infanticide, the sale and hard labor of children, the paralyzing dread of seeing a ``fox ghost''; relatives and rapacious landlords; New Englanders' Bible-toting fury and xenophobia against ``pagan'' Asians; Southern cruelty toward newly emancipated African Americans; and icy racial hostility against the Chinese. Her skillful balance of individual stories and social history makes a poignant statement about the waste of lives. The author's own lament emerges in her title, which refers to a genre of women's songs for the menfolk who sought their livelihoods in the ``Gold Mountain'' of America. (May)
KLIATT
Toishan, China is about as far removed from North Adams, Massachusetts as one can get—especially in the 1800s. These are the two settings for this look at the lives of the various characters in this novel. We meet Sum Jui in 1842 in Toishan. Her family is poor and life in China is hard. She marries into another family when she is 13 years old. Things do not improve despite her having sons, a precious commodity. Family rivalries cause her much grief. One son is given to her sister-in-law to raise, another son leaves to seek his fortune in the land of the Gold Mountains (the U.S.). The son in the U.S., Lue Gim Gong, ends up in North Adams. There a benevolent spinster teaches him to read and encourages his belief in Jesus as well as promoting his talents in plant biology. Bad luck, ill fortune, and hardship seem to be the main roads these people follow. Some good things occur, but not frequently. Yet this sad story is uplifting. Lue works hard and achieves some small recognition for all his efforts. This historical fiction is compelling because the reader cares about the characters. It provides a good look at life in China and the U.S. during the years 1840 to 1900. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1995, Beacon, 384p, 21cm, 00-029788, $14.00. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Robin S. Holab-Abelman; Libn., US Court, Mobile, AL, September 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 5)
Library Journal
The story of Lue Gim Gong, a Chinese immigrant who gave up his country and family to pursue his passion for botany, is told in this historical novel through the voices of three women representing three distinct cultures and three distinct points of view. We hear alternately from Sum Jui, Lue's mother, who lives with her husband's family in a small rural village in China; Fanny, a New England spinster who converts Lue to Christianity and encourages his botanical research but keeps him financially dependent; and Sheba, the daughter of slaves, who is a servant to Fanny's sister in Florida. Although the narratives provide much detail about the lives of these three women and the differences and similarities in their cultures, they never develop beyond types, and the story becomes tedious. Nevertheless, the reader learns something about Lue's work and is given the opportunity to think about cultural conflict, the evils of racism, and the opportunities lost to blind prejudice. McCunn is the author of the well-received Thousand Pieces of Gold: A Biographical Novel (1981). Recommended for most libraries.-Rebecca Stuhr-Rommereim, Grinnel Coll. Libs., Iowa
Gail Tsukiyama
Impressively researched and richly portrayed…An inspiring story.
— Gail Tsukiyama,San Francisco Chronicle
Booklist
Rich and beautiful storytelling, full of cultural nuance and finely crafted characters.

San Francisco Chronicle
Impressively researched and richly portrayed.... An inspiring story.

Santa Rosa Press Democrat
The author's remarkable literary achievement here is that she has created the distinct voices of three very different characters who belong to, and who express, the traditions and values of their own rich cultures.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807062296
Publisher:
Beacon
Publication date:
06/09/2000
Series:
Blue Streak Series
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
5.42(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.94(d)

Meet the Author

Ruthanne Lum McCunn is the author of the highly acclaimed novel Thousand Pieces of Gold, as well as a pictorial history, Chinese American Portraits: Personal Histories, 1828-1988. She was born in San Francisco's Chinatown and grew up in Hong Kong. She currently lives in San Francisco.For more information about the author go to http://www.mccunn.com/

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