Summary and book reviews of How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang

How Much of These Hills Is Gold

A Novel

by C Pam Zhang

How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang X
How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang
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  • Published:
    Apr 2020, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Book Summary

An electric debut novel set against the twilight of the American gold rush, two siblings are on the run in an unforgiving landscape - trying not just to survive but to find a home.

Ba dies in the night; Ma is already gone. Newly orphaned children of immigrants, Lucy and Sam are suddenly alone in a land that refutes their existence. Fleeing the threats of their western mining town, they set off to bury their father in the only way that will set them free from their past. Along the way, they encounter giant buffalo bones, tiger paw prints, and the specters of a ravaged landscape as well as family secrets, sibling rivalry, and glimpses of a different kind of future.

Both epic and intimate, blending Chinese symbolism and re-imagined history with fiercely original language and storytelling, How Much of These Hills Is Gold is a haunting adventure story, an unforgettable sibling story, and the announcement of a stunning new voice in literature. On a broad level, it explores race in an expanding country and the question of where immigrants are allowed to belong. But page by page, it's about the memories that bind and divide families, and the yearning for home.

Gold

Ba dies in the night, prompting them to seek two silver dollars.

Sam's tapping an angry beat come morning, but Lucy, before they go, feels a need to speak. Silence weighs harder on her, pushes till she gives way.

"Sorry," she says to Ba in his bed. The sheet that tucks him is the only clean stretch in this dim and dusty shack, every surface black with coal. Ba didn't heed the mess while living and in death his mean squint goes right past it. Past Lucy. Straight to Sam. Sam the favorite, round bundle of impatience circling the doorway in too-big boots. Sam clung to Ba's every word while living and now won't meet the man's gaze. That's when it hits Lucy: Ba really is gone.

She digs a bare toe into dirt floor, rooting for words to make Sam listen. To spread benediction over years of hurt. Dust hangs ghostly in the light from the lone window. No wind to stir it.

Something prods Lucy's spine.

"Pow," Sam says. Eleven to Lucy's twelve, wood to her water as Ma liked to say, Sam is nonetheless...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. In How Much of These Hills is Gold, Pam Zhang crafts a reimagined American West, filled with magic and myth, at the height of the Gold Rush. The epigraph reads: "This land is not your land" but within Chapter One, Lucy recalls Ba's words: "You remember you belong to this place as much as anybody." (24). What do you think the novel is saying about birthrights? Are they inherited or claimed?
  2. Much is made about the burial process—for loved ones; for things and animals; for past selves. Is there a right way to honor the dead as seen in the novel? What does Sam's decision to take the two silver dollars from Ba's burial tell us about their relationship?
  3. Ba and Sam are prone to fanciful storytelling. Consider the many stories told within...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

That the book is very much literary fiction for adults but features children makes it feel like a restorative gift, a youthful adventure story come years too late for my own youth but with provisions made for my age. How Much of These Hills Is Gold is raw, elemental and irreplaceable, something singular and essential. Zhang's novel is a landmark debut that doesn't just fill gaps in the historical fiction genre, but subverts it, calling attention to the very limitations of colonial recorded history...continued

Full Review Members Only (967 words).

(Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook).

Media Reviews

The Guardian
How Much of These Hills Is Gold is an impressive debut. Though sometimes weighed down by the sheer heft of its language and atmospherics, it rewards patient reading. The prose carries an airless, uniquely pungent flavour. By the end, it has built into an epic, powerfully wrought journey, and it is refreshing to discover a new author of such grand scale, singular focus and blistering vision.

San Francisco Chronicle
Likely to be the debut novel of the year.

The Millions
Zhang's debut novel is a smart, beautiful, and intimate legend…How Much of These Hills Is Gold ambitiously examines the nation's long neglected racialized past and, more importantly, brings those individuals to life again on the page, with their desire and anger, longing and frustration.

Library Journal (starred review)
This moving tale of family, gold, and freedom rings with a truth that defies rosy preconceptions. The description of human and environmental degradation is balanced by shining characters who persevere greatly. Highly recommended.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[E]xtraordinary...Gorgeously written and fearlessly imagined, Zhang's awe-inspiring novel introduces two indelible characters whose odyssey is as good as the gold they seek.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[B]rutally lyrical...Zhang asks readers to acknowledge a legacy we have been taught to ignore by creating a new and spellbinding mythology of her own. Aesthetically arresting and a vital contribution to America's conversation about itself.

Author Blurb Lauren Groff, New York Times-bestselling author of Fates and Furies
C Pam Zhang's debut is ferocious, dark and gleaming, a book erupting out of the interstices between myth and dream, between longing and belonging. How Much of These Hills Is Gold tells us that stories--like people, like the rough and stunning landscape of California itself--are constantly in the process of being made, broken, and finally remade into something tender and new.

Author Blurb Chigozie Obioma, author of Booker Prize finalist An Orchestra of Minorities
A haunting, riveting and truly remarkable debut. Zhang writes with the clear-eyed lucidity of ancient myth-makers whose eyes are attuned to the vicissitudes of nature and humanity.

Author Blurb Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You
This exhilarating novel unweaves the myths of the American West and offers in their place a gorgeous, broken, soulful, feral song of family and yearning, origin and earth. C Pam Zhang is a brilliant, fearless writer. This book is a wonder.

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Beyond the Book

Tigers in Chinese History and Culture

Chinese god of wealth Tsai Shen Yeh riding a tigerIn C Pam Zhang's How Much of These Hills Is Gold, signs of and references to tigers consistently appear around its characters, although they are presumed to be in the American West where (at least in the real world) native tigers don't exist. For example, Lucy, the main character, mentions that her mother draws a tiger in the doorway of every new home when they arrive. Late in the book, there are rumors about a tiger roaming around the frontier town where Lucy lives. Paw prints that seem like they could belong to tigers randomly appear. While Zhang's novel never explicitly states that Lucy and her family are of Chinese ancestry, this is heavily implied through linguistic and cultural elements of which the tiger references are a part.

...

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