Pieces of Gold
by Ruthanne Lum McCunn (Dell)
by John Gabree
the story of an extraordinary human being who began her life as Lalu
Nathoy in China in 1853 and ended it as Polly Bemis in Grangeville,
Idaho, in 1933. To her father, young Lalu was a precious gift, his "thousand
pieces of gold," yet during a famine in northern China in 1871
he sold her to a bandit for two bags of soybeans, so that the rest of
his family could survive. In the years that followed, Lalu belonged
in succession to a Shanghai Madam, a Pacific slave trader and a Chinese
saloonkeeper in Gold Rush country.
Through the hardest of times she courageously preserved her dignity
and sense of self. Emancipated at last by a man who won her in a poker
game, she ended her days as a homesteader. Fires, gunfights, lynchings
-- no difficulty could overcome the spirit of this unique woman. She
could dig a bullet from a wound with a crochet hook or calm a cougar
with a touch. Her love affair with Charlie Bemis, the man who freed
her, is deeply moving.
McCunn 's story seems to have been carefully researched, but this is
more a work of imagination than of history. The author has wisely chosen
to tell her tale as a novelist would, filling in the historical record
with conversations and details of behavior that flesh out her characters.
She introduces us to an American about whom previously we have known
very little, the immigrant Chinese on the frontier.