CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 15 . . . . March 28, 2003
Young men came to the Gold Mountain---Canada---from China from many different backgrounds but all for reasons based on some version of escape. They wanted to get away from poverty, from destiny, from bad luck, from demanding family members, from uncongenial jobs; they all hoped Canada would be the solution to their particular problem. Paul Yee has written of some of these men in Dead Man's Gold. Very few of them find what they are looking for, and many of their spirits continue to haunt the vicinities of their failures.
Am I suggesting that these are ghost stories? Yes, but in general of a very gentle, unterrifying variety. Shu, for example, in "Sky High" was a poet who became a lumberjack, until the sight of tree stumps crying their tears of dripping sap made him take his own life in order that his spirit be able to haunt the neighbourhood of his favourite forest giant and thus preserve it from destruction.
In some of the stories, the man manages to succeed in his life in the New World, but even that does not guarantee his happiness. The Canadian government, having welcomed cheap labour for some time, suddenly took a racist stance and decided to curb further immigration from China by imposing a head tax on all new Chinese arrivals. The cost of bringing the family to join even a successful man thus skyrocketed. A number of the stories in this collection reflect the bitterness concerning this unjust tax.
On the whole, these are not happy stories, but they are the sort of stories of which myths are made. There is the man who murders his best friend for his gold, only to have it curse his life until he commits suicide; the one who brings his wife and son from China without having told them that he has taken a second wife and has a Canadian family as well; and so on. They are very much history, in spite of being fiction, and read that way, they form a valuable insight into a piece of Canada's past. They would make really gripping reading perhaps only for those who share in their background, but for anyone who has an interest in our multicultural heritage, they are quite fascinating. This means they are not really children's stories, in spite of being simply written, but that is not a fault. They are well worth reading.
Mary Thomas is presently living in Oxford, Eng., on leave from her job in elementary school libraries in Winnipeg, MB, and finding ghosts up creaky spiral stairs in an old college library where she sometimes helps shelve books.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.