A reissue of the classic biographical novel that has sold more than 200,000 copies
Lalu Nathoy’s father calls 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 saloon keeper, and offered as a prize in a poker game. Complete with photographs and documents, this biographical novel is the extraordinary story of a legendary pioneer’s fight for independence and dignity on the American frontier.
“[A] story of struggle and survival as a woman-and slave-in China and the American West . . . Fast-paced and entertaining-packed with adventure, drama, and inspiration.” -Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, San Francisco Chronicle
“From Shanghai to San Francisco, Lalu Nathoy’s courageous journey is an important contribution to the history of pioneer women.” -Ms. Magazine
“This biographical novel has plenty of suspense and a strong story line. Reading it is a liberal education in one phase of pioneer life in the West.” -Lucille McDonald, Seattle Times
“A valuable book that gives Chinese Americans another true heroine.” -Maxine Hong Kingston
“Ruthanne Lum McCunn has woven an enthralling work of fiction from the true-life story of Lalu Nathoy.” -Elena Brunet, Los Angeles Times
Ideas for Discussion
- In Chapter 8, Ding says to Lalu, "Don't you understand, you
cannot escape your fate?"(p.77). How does this book embody the
debate on predestination vs. determining one's own future?
- Discuss the various meanings behind the title, "Thousand Pieces
of Gold." Do you think it is an appropriate title for this book?
- Do you think the author presents a realistic portrait of race
relations in a small, yet polarized American community? How about
the role of women in a largely male community? Discuss how you
think it feels to be a minority in a similar situation.
- "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 feet, the auction block. This was her America."(p.102). This
small passage touches upon the idea of the American Dream'
and how reality is often very different than immigrants imagined
it to be. Do you think immigrants still experience these same
feelings in America today? Describe your own personal experiences.
- During the course of the book did you ever think Lalu fit into
the role of a China doll?' If so, when does her status start
to change and what events contribute to her eventual liberation?
- Charlie speaks of the limitations Lalu will have as a Chinese
person living in 19th century America. Besides her
decision to not have children, in what other ways does Lalu show
that she is aware of these limitations?
- To what degree does Lalu loosen her ties with her Chinese background?
Mention some examples from the book.
- Does Jim's concern for Lalu match the brief relationship she
had with the bandit Ding? How do the two relationships differ?
- Lalu is told by Charlie that a Chinese person in America cannot
own land. Considering Lalu's love of farming and land, does she
ever accept this concept? Give examples of her defiance and perseverance.
- Is Charlie's and Lalu's relationship similar in some ways to
the one Lalu formed with her father when she worked in the fields
of northern China?
- "And when you became of age, your mistress would have found
you a good husband, and you would have been free again. Now you
are neither snake nor dragon. You are a woman, yet you work like
a man, a laborer. Who will marry you?" (p.356). Discuss the daily
discrimination Lalu faced in China and how it differed from the
discrimination she faced in America.
View the Teacher's Guide