PERSONAL: Born in HI; married; children: one son. Education: Attended University of Hawaii; University of California at Berkeley, degree (with honors), 1970.
ADDRESSES: Home—San Francisco Bay area, CA. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Sourcebooks, Inc., 1935 Brookdale Rd., Ste. 139, Naperville, IL 60563.
CAREER: Writer, speaker, and marketing and business consultant. PacBell, CA, worked in sales and marketing. University of California at Berkeley CAL Alumni Association, member of board of directors and member of Chinese Chapter; University of San Francisco Center for the Pacific Rim, member of executive advisory board.
AWARDS, HONORS: Best Books of Hawaii citation, and Gubernatorial Commendation, Governor of California, both 2002, and Ka Palapala Po'okela Award for excellence in literature about Hawaii, Hawaii Book Publisher's Association, 2003, all for The Money Dragon.
The Money Dragon (novel), foreword by Hiram Fong, Sourcebooks Landmark (Naperville, IL), 2002.
When Strange Gods Call (novel), Sourcebooks (Naperville, IL), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Hawaiian-born author Pam Chun was surprised when, in the 1990s, former Hawaiian senator Hiram Fong told her that he had known her great-grandfather, one of the most successful Chinese-American businessmen of the early 1900s. Chun had never even heard her great-grandfather's name before, let alone been told about his wealth. She wanted to learn more, but directly asking the older members of her family got her nowhere: they said there was nothing good to say about the man and would not talk about him at all. Chun tried to research her great-grandfather, L. Ah Leong, but she could not find him in any books on Hawaiian history either. Eventually Chun found some documents in the National Archives in San Bruno, California, and with them she finally coaxed her grandmother and other relatives to tell her more. "My grandmother started telling me the stories when she was ninety years old," Chun told Honolulu Star Bulletin interviewer Nadine Kam. "She finally had time to sit down and talk to me, and it was like a door that opened and she started remembering more and more."
Chun's research grew into a fictionalized biography of L. Ah Leong, titled The Money Dragon. She tells Leong's story from the perspective of Phoenix Chong Fung-Yin Lau, Leong's daughter-in-law and Chun's grandmother. Leong begins life as a poor child in China, so disdained that no one even bothers trying to rescue him when he nearly drowns. He saves himself and vows to become someone so rich and powerful that people will be forced to acknowledge him. Leong arrives in Hawaii in 1876 and starts a business, but it goes bankrupt. On his second try, as a wholesaler of groceries, he succeeds. With his wealth he buys much of downtown Honolulu, as well as two massive estates in his native Guangdong province of China, and keeps four wives. It is these four wives who provide most of the drama in Leong's life, including various lawsuits for divorce and bigamy. Their stories form "a kind of exotic Dallas," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor, referring to the popular television series of the 1980s: "lurid, two-dimensional, fast-paced—and utterly addictive." However, as Peter Gordon commented in the Asian Review of Books, "The Money Dragon also paints a multi-faceted picture of Confucian ideals bumping up against American individualism, of hardedged American capitalism funding a scholarly lifestyle back in China, all mellowed by the soft breezes of tropical Hawaii."
Chun's second novel, When Strange Gods Call, also discusses the history of Chinese immigrant in Hawaii. Its protagonist is Miki Ai'Lee, a child born into a prominent Chinese-Hawaiian family in 1940. By that time the Ai'Lees and another old Hawaiian family, the Demmings, have already been feuding for decades. As a schoolgirl Miki falls in love with a Demming son, but in the face of so much disapproval she gives up on their relationship and moves to the mainland. Twelve years later, when Miki returns home to care for her sick grandmother, her beloved is still there—but so is the family feud. "Chun … effectively dramatizes the conflict between old traditions and fast-paced modernity," Jennifer Baker wrote in Booklist, but "most satisfying are the novel's scattered glimpses into Hawaii's history, which will be unfamiliar territory for most readers," commented a Publishers Weekly critic.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 15, 2004, Jennifer Baker, review of When Strange Gods Call, p. 206.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2002, review of The Money Dragon, p. 63; August 15, 2004, review of When Strange Gods Call, p. 758.
Publishers Weekly, February 11, 2002, review of The Money Dragon, p. 162; October 25, 2004, review of When Strange Gods Call, p. 29.
Star Bulletin (Honolulu, HI), March 26, 2002, Nadine Kam, interview with Chun, and Betty Shimabukuro, review of The Money Dragon.
Asian Review of Books Online, http://www.asianreviewofbooks.com/ (April 13, 2003), Peter Gordon, review of The Money Dragon.
Pam Chun Home Page, http://members.authorsguild.net/pamchun (October 18, 2005).
University of California at Berkeley Web site, http://www.alumni.berkeley.edu/ (October 30, 2005), "Alumni Almanac."