‘the Resisters’ Could Use A Little More Resistance
For their family, America was supposed to be a land of abundance. Instead, they find “a land of missing things. A land stripped of its gold, its rivers, its buffalo, its Indians … its birds and its green and its living.”
But it was “easier to avoid that history, unwritten as it is except in the soughing of dry grass, in the marks of lost trails, in the rumors from the mouths of bored men and mean girls, in the cracked patterns of buffalo bone,” Zhang writes. “Easier by far to read the history that Teacher Leigh teaches, those names and dates orderly as bricks, stacked to build a civilization.”
This novel is clearly meant to be a counter to those orderly histories, which leave out what was there before “progress” came to California’s hills, and what was lost when it did. “Those gold men really think this land belongs to them,” says Sam. “Isn’t that the greatest joke?”
How Much Of These Hills Is Gold By C Pam Zhang Review An Impressive Debut
Sure to be the boldest debut of the year, How Much of These Hills Is Gold by American writer C Pam Zhang grapples with the legend of the wild west and mines brilliant new gems from a well-worn setting. Its protagonists are neither cocky white cowboys nor Native Americans but two destitute children of Chinese descent, struggling to survive after the deaths of their impoverished parents. The novel begins as a quest as they try to find the means to bury their father, but extends into an excavation of their family history as well as an account of their development as growing adolescents.
The story is heavy with layers of trauma, starting with the grim humour of the children, Lucy and Sam, dragging around their own fathers rotting corpse. It is a stirring setting in which nothing is ever truly safe or comfortable, not even the plain air, which is so hot it shivers, as if trying to lift off. Alongside Sam and Lucys family story are the stories of the genocide and persecution of Native Americans, the colonisation of the west and the compulsive exploitation of the land by desperate settlers and greedy opportunists. It is a world so physically and morally rough that the young protagonists fetishise tiny details that represent beauty and purity, such as when Lucy notices a girl whose embroidered white dress puffs from her tiny waist.
How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang is published by Virago . To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Free UK p& p over £15
How Much Of These Hills Is Gold By C Pam Zhang
How Much of These Hills Is GoldC Pam ZhangRiverhead Books | April 7, 2020
C Pam Zhangs How Much of These Hills Is Gold unfolds the story of a family struggling to survive the years following the Gold Rush. In the first part of the book, sisters Lucy and Sam, , must bury their dead father. They are also without a mother, who disappeared after their little brother died at birth. All that remains of this family are two wildly different sisters bound by both their Chinese heritage and shared memories of their familys nomadic life.
Where Sam is wilderness, Lucy is civilization. Where Sam is nomadic, Lucy desires to be claimed by a place. To comfort their mourning father after the loss of his son and wife, Sam becomes his pseudo-son and one comfort, marking this transformation by wearing mens clothing, short hair, and a carrot or rock near the groin. Lucy, the daughter with an aptitude for book learning, was her mothers favorite and bears the painful memory of her fathers resentment for reminding him too much of her mother. Because she does not know where her father buried her mother, she has a hard time burying her father.
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How Much Of These Hills Is Gold
by C Pam ZhangRELEASE DATE: April 7, 2020
A first-time novelist explores timely questions about home and belonging in a story set during the gold rush in a reimagined American West.
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A Haunting Debut Novel Brings New Faces To The Myth Of The American West
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HOW MUCH OF THESE HILLS IS GOLDBy C Pam Zhang
Chinese-Americans both native-born and immigrant played a huge part in the settling of the American West, a fact that has too rarely been the subject of fiction. How Much of These Hills Is Gold, a debut novel by C Pam Zhang, is a tough-minded, skillful and powerful corrective to that omission. She dismantles the myth of the American West, or, rather, builds it up by adding faces and stories that have often been missing from the picture.
Zhang tells the story of Ba, Ma and their children, 12-year-old Lucy and her androgynous 11-year-old sibling, Sam. In keeping with the fablelike, slightly fantastical West she has invented, we never learn the familys surname. Ma emigrated from China, Ba and the children were born in the United States . Ba, like so many others, has joined the gold rush, sure that he will hit it big, but, like most prospectors, he never does. From the first sentence, when Lucy and Sam awake to find their father dead in his bed, the novel is about loss, grief and the importance of ritual: Ba dies in the night, prompting them to seek two silver dollars. Ma, we learn a page and a half later, has died some time ago these kids are on their own.
Land Language And Legacy In How Much Of These Hills Is Gold
on October 27, 2020
What makes a home a home?
Released during the very beginning of quarantine, C Pam Zhangs debut novel HowMuch of These Hills Is Gold revisits the landscape of great American Western literature while exploring the Gold Rush through the previously unexplored lens of Chinese immigrants. Intertwining traditional Chinese folklore with historical context, Zhang raises questions of belonging, home, sexuality and more. Months after its publication, Hills became longlisted for the Booker Prize, and Zhang was subsequently nominated for the National Book Foundations 5 under 35.
Hills starts off with a quest: Sam and Lucys father, Ba, has died, and now they need to seek two silver dollars for a proper burial. Told as a constant back and forth between present and past and between action and memory, Lucy and Sam heave Bas dead body across a stolen horse in order to find a home for the body to lie in. For most of the first section , the two siblings traverse the rolling hills, remembering stories of buffalos and tigers, of burials and recipes and eventually finding a place to bury Bas body.
A blend of history and myth, the language of Hills is poetic without becoming pure poetry. Zhangs words flow and blend into each other, becoming almost a stylistic microcosm of the rolling and tumbling hills.
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C Pam Zhangs How Much Of These Hills Is Gold Brilliantly Reimagines The Cowboy Narrative
I hate the cowboy with all my guts, writer Lauren Groff said in a 2017 New Yorker interview, laying waste to the smallpox of all narratives responsible for generations of emotionally constipated men who worship violence, guns, greed and other destructive ills. We need to constantly push against the narratives we are told to swallow, the Fates and Furies author said. The cowboy can go straight to hell.
Its no surprise, then, to find Groff praising C Pam Zhangs How Much of These Hills Is Gold in a blurb on the novels back cover. In this outstanding debut, Zhang does more than just push against the cowboy narrative: She shoves it clear out of the way.
At once subversive and searching, How Much of These Hills Is Gold is set in the American West during a gold rush if not necessarily the Gold Rush and focuses on a family whose roots lie in an unnamed country from beyond the ocean. The ambiguity is intentional, as Zhang places her story between the years XX42 and XX67 and frequently has her characters pondering the meaning of home, time and storytelling itself. Death, too, isnt always so certain or final.
Jake Clineis a writer and editor in Miami.
How Much of These Hills Is Gold
How Much Of These Hills Is Gold Themes
The main themes in How Much of These Hills Is Gold are the body as limit and history, land and nature, and the meaning of gold.
- The body as limit and history: Historical categories of the body, specifically gender and race, place unwanted limitations on the novels characters.
- Land and nature: The novel explores the complex interdependence between people and the land, with animals, particularly tigers, taking on symbolic significance.
- The meaning of gold: While gold represents wealth and power to the gold men, it represents possibility, and finally indeterminacy, to Lucy and Sam.
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How Much Of These Hills Is Gold Summary & Study Guide Description
How Much of These Hills Is Gold Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis tohelp you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Zhang, C Pam. How Much of These Hills Is Gold. New York: Riverhead Books, 2020.
The novel begins in the year 1862. Lucy, age 12, and her sister Sam, age 11, standing over the body of their father . Their mother, who is also gone, once told them that the dead must be buried with silver coins to prevent the living from being haunted, so they visit the bank in hopes of getting a loan. When the banker calls them a racial slur, Sam pulls out Ba’s gun and shoots, but it misfires. They run home, pack their father’s body in a trunk, steal the local schoolteacher’s horse, and take to the hills surrounding the mining town in which they live. They quarrel looking for a suitable place to bury the body. Sam was always closer to Ba, while Lucy had a stronger relationship with their mother . The siblings come to a town called Sweetwater Lucy wants to live there, but Sam wishes to stay in the hills and become a wanderer and prospector like Ba. They separate.
Book Excerpt: How Much Of These Hills Is Gold By C Pam Zhang
May 31, 2020 / 8:07 AM / CBS News
In her acclaimed debut novel, “How Much of These Hills Is Gold” , C. Pam Zhang tells an epic story, set in the Gold Rush days of the American West, of two orphaned children of Chinese immigrants.
Blending myth and symbolism with the cruelties of a mining town, Zhang weaves a lyrical story of sibling rivalry and a quest to find one’s place in a New World.
Read an excerpt below from C. Pam Zhang’s “How Much of These Hills Is 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 yourself,” Lucy says. She pushes Sam like an outlaw to the door.
And now that Ba’s gone?
And long gone, Ma.
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The Body As Limit And History
The characters in the story are limited by the historical categories of their bodynamely race and gender, which shape the relationships they have with people and the kind of opportunities they are given. Being Chinese American, they attract hostility and rejection. Financially, they are also not permitted by law to even keep any gold they find. As women, or those perceived as such, they attract a different kind of attentionno less undesirablefrom the eyes of grown men who seem to have an equal sense of entitlement to other peoples bodies as they do to the contents of the land. Both categories attract violence, and it is these categories that Lucy and Sam wish to live outside of, expressing disdain for one limit or the otheras Lucy at times resents being Chinese, Sam flinches at their assigned gender.
The limits and history of the body go beyond social categories as well, with Lucy, Ma, and Ba all suffering from physical damage that can be assigned symbolic significance. Lucy begins the novel with a broken nose and ends with a healed one Ma has a uniquely rough voice that is revealed to be the result of throat damage from one tragic night of howling and Ba has a bad leg that he swears is the result of an attack from a tiger, a creature that normally symbolizes protection for his family.
Questioning Of The American Dream
Finally, true to the thought-provoking features of influential books, How Much of These Hills Is Gold bundles all its timely themes into a big challenge of the American Dream. Youre led to wonder much about this grand social construct.
What is it really? Who is it for? What does it cost? Through the storys very human side, the cracks in this gilded ideal become heartachingly clear.
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Engaging Writing Style Rich In The Vernacular
The story delivers its powerful messages without being super explicit or descriptive. The writing is beautiful and unique in its simple yet intricate style.
Its also laced with the vernacular of each narrator, boosting its immersiveness tenfold. Writers looking to make their styles more natural and colloquial will find this novel invaluable.
Timely Discussion Of Racism And Identity
The book draws heavily on the hardships the Chinese community faced during the Gold Rush, whether they were immigrants or US-born. The different immersive perspectives you get, from adults and children alike, make the topic of extreme discrimination that much more palpable.
At the same time, it leads into questions of belonging and cultural identity. To make things even more visceral and timely, themes of gender identity, sexism, and feminism come up too. The depths of How Much of These Hills Is Gold are intense indeed.
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Early Life And Education
Zhang was born in Beijing, China, and moved to the United States when she was four years old. While growing up, she moved to ten new homes by the time she was eighteen. She attended Brown University, and has studied at Cambridge University. Zhang was the 2017 Truman Capote Fellow at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.