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How Much of These Hills Is Gold
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How Much of These Hills Is Gold

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  18,656 ratings  ·  2,712 reviews
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
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published April 7th 2020 by Riverhead Books
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Adam I noticed this, too, and it bothered me. The phrasing is clumsy, for one thing, but the chronology even more so. I wondered whether it meant after Ma.…moreI noticed this, too, and it bothered me. The phrasing is clumsy, for one thing, but the chronology even more so. I wondered whether it meant after Ma... but no, that was three years. Or in the West... but no. Or after Lucy was born... but that wouldn't make sense, and anyway 11 years and two decades are a long way apart. In the end, I put it down to a mistake: perhaps it meant three decades, so he was under 30 when he died. That's the best I've come up with. Maybe we're both missing something! (less)
Travis Elliott I think in that section Ba was described as an infant found next to his two dead parents near the shore. Am I remembering correctly? I assumed he was …moreI think in that section Ba was described as an infant found next to his two dead parents near the shore. Am I remembering correctly? I assumed he was either born on the passage over from China or as soon as they arrived. As you note, though, he is clear in his story that he was born in America, and my inference from that origin and from his interactions with the 'two hundred' that he is ethnically Chinese.(less)

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On the Booker Prize Longlist!

This is an astonishingly stunning, timeless and original piece of epic historical adventure fiction from the truly talented C. Pam Zhang that heartbreakingly resonates in our contemporary world today. She fuses myths and fiction that comprise history and those that write it with the cultural folklore and myths that immigrants and their families bring with them in their conflicts, struggle and search for identity, a sense of belonging and home, amidst their efforts to
Angela M
Apr 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Chasing the dream of gold, hoping it will bring a comfortable life, Chinese immigrants take their two American born children from place to place out west. As the dream fades with no gold to prospect, the father resorts to working in a coal mine where the pay is low and the temptations run high. This is such an impressive debut, with writing that takes the reader to this desolate, dry, dreary west. It’s dark and a little gruesome in places and I wasn’t quite expecting this to be as sad as it was. ...more
Apr 21, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020
An expansive historical novel bringing to life the start and end of the gold rush, as experienced by a Chinese-American couple and their two children, studious Lucy and tomboyish Sam, who clash as kids and adults over their differences in personality. Lucy and Sam are left orphaned and homeless early in the book; their search for belonging, along with their fraught relationship, lie at the heart of the novel, which nevertheless midway takes a Faulkneresque detour and reveals the backstory of the ...more
May 17, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asian-america
I was pretty excited to read How Much Gold Is in These Hills, the story of Chinese Americans during the Gold Rush as written by an emerging Chinese American author - Our Story Our Voices, let the revolution continue! Unfortunately, the novel tries to plant a foot in too many doorways, using language that persistently attempts poetry but often comes across as heavy-handed and verging on emotionally manipulative... the sum of these flaws is that numerous themes are rendered ambiguous and incoheren ...more

fulfilling book riot's 2020 read harder challenge task #7: Read a historical fiction novel not set in WWII

here is the blurb i wrote about this book for indie next, for those of you who like succinct praise and/or capital letters:

A powerful historical debut about two orphaned siblings coming of age during America's Gold Rush. Born to parents who left China for better prospects (heh), the pair forge their individual identities—one craving adventure, the other stability, as they na
Diane S ☔
Apr 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5 Bleak, dark, gritty and thoroughly unforgettable. A well written debut novel to boot. Characters that are multifaceted, and an atmosphere that draws in the reader. Time out of mind, maybe not to s happy place, but to a place that makes one want to learn more.

The Gold Rush, 1840's or so and despite many prospecting efforts, they are now considered miners. Though because if their heritage, they are paid less and barely subsisting. Lucy is the eldest, Sam the youngest and their story is told in
Peter Boyle
May 03, 2020 rated it it was ok
I'm not going to write a lengthy review of this book. The bottom line is that it just didn't work for me. I normally enjoy stories set in the Wild West but I found the pace of this one much too slow.

On the first page, two Chinese-American kids find their father dead in his bed. They load his body onto the back of the horse, traipse around the countryside and don't bury him until page 50. At which point, his corpse has begun to severely decompose. One of the sisters, Sam, identifies as male, but
“She thinks of Ba salting his game. Of salt to scour iron. Of salt in an open wound, a burn that purifies. Salt to clean and salt to save. Salt on a rich man’s table every Sunday, a flavor to mark the passage of the week. Salt shrinking the flesh of fruit and meat both, changing it, buying time.”

Lucy and Sam have gone over a hilltop and seen a salt flat on the other side. They are twelve and eleven, on their own, leaving the mining country where they’ve been raised. They are outcasts from the
Dec 13, 2020 rated it liked it
Almost certain that my rating stems more from a mismatch between me and the novel than any flaw imbedded in the novel itself. How Much of These Hills is Gold uses the framework of historical adventure fiction to follow a Chinese American family during the American gold rush, specifically two siblings who recognize their own power amidst the colonial project that is the United States’ expansion westward. C Pam Zhang incorporates magical realism and a nonlinear timeline to explore how siblings Luc ...more
Apr 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
A high 4 stars!

What a beautifully written and original story! This novel takes place in the mid 19th century at the end of the gold rush in the United States. The story is told primarily from the point of view of Lucy, a young Chinese American girl who's parents hoped to find fortune during the gold rush. At the beginning of the novel, Lucy and her sibling Sam are left alone after both parents have died and they must figure out how to survive. From there, the story goes back and then forward in
Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer
I read this for the second time, 8 months after first reading it. My second reading was following its longlisting for the 2020 Booker Prize (something which as per my original review's ending did not surprise me at all).

My views on a second read were similar to my own, although I did appreciate more the clear environmental message in the book this time around.


Because this land they live in is a land of missing things. A lan

How Much of These Hills is Gold takes place in the Old West during the gold rush years but this is not your typical ‘western’. A gentle, sensitive story of a Chinese-American family, it’s about belonging, yearning, and seeking a home in a place where both the land and its inhabitants are hostile.

Our tale begins with the two children, Lucy and Sam, striking out alone to find somewhere to bury their father. Flashing back, we learn more about their parents — Ba who c
Jul 05, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This started out very promising, but the further in I went, the less enchanted I became. Although the story told is fairly interesting, I felt the structure worked against it: it starts out with the death of the parental figures and their children on the lam; then segues back to a long flashback on the courtship of the parents and their early days in Calif; then a single long chapter narrated by the dead father; then a final section taking place 5 years after the main action ... it's a LOT to ke ...more
Aug 08, 2020 rated it liked it
Three sincere and heartfelt cheers for C. Pam Zhang:

Hooray for a debut novel by an Asian author on this year's Booker longlist!

Hooray for the recognition of a young writer of promise!

Hooray for imagination, pride in one's ancestry, and the courage of one's convictions!

Okay, folks, that's it for the celebration. The rest is a lot less enthusiastic. This wasn't a great read for me and I do take it to task. If that isn't your thing, please stop here. And, as always, these are just my opinions.

Longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize.

“What makes a home a home?” Lucy says.
Sam faces the mountains and roars.

This book is a study of landscapes with swirling blues, greens, browns, blacks and embers of gold as much as it is a story of two sisters. It's a painting. Actually, it's several paintings. Of tigers, of buffaloes, of slow decadence, of myths and legends, of loneliness and of home. Home, a place so vague, an idea so overwhelming, that Lucy swoons every time she tries to conceptualize it.
Apr 02, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2021, from-library
She thinks of the other direction. The hills where she was born, and the sun that bleaches sky and brightens grass. She thinks about when she stood in a dead lake and held what men desired and died for. She thinks that was nothing, really, compared to the way the noonday sun makes the grass blaze. Horizon to horizon a shimmer. Who could truly grasp it, the huge and maddening glint, the ever-shifting mirage, the grass that refused to be owned or pinned but changed with every angle of light: what
Libby - On gardening hiatus
C Pam Zhang words paint a breathtaking landscape that reminds me of the grand vistas depicted in the western movies of the 50’s and 60’s. In those movies, the rugged individualistic American hero overcomes obstacles to win out over man and nature. In this story, however, two Chinese siblings, Lucy and Sam, who have become orphans live a different reality. Zhang creates a harsh, raw existence that if it doesn’t kill you, shapes and molds you, sharpening your character, defining who you are and th ...more
Apr 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020, giveaways
Now a Booker Longlist nominee!
I’m excited to check back in with this one in a little over two weeks to see if it’s made the shortlist! ☺️

“This land is not your land.”

That’s a hell of a quote to begin a book with, but it underscores the tone of what’s to follow. Plainly, the world is blunt, harsh and unexpected—just like this novel.

When I’m picking historical fiction to read, I usually try to steer clear of the over-saturated time periods or perspectives. I’m pretty much burnt out on anything e
Jul 28, 2020 rated it liked it
Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2020
A brilliant idea, a strong start, but the final 75 % are more or less a mess: This debut could have been so much better. Zhang tells the story of a Chinese-American family during the gold rush, thus adding a part to the vast territory of Wild West narratives that has yet been missing (by the end of the 1850s, Chinese immigrants made up one-fifth of the population of the four counties that constituted the Southern Mines - you can read more about Chinese immigra
Aug 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2020

A little uneven, but rather impressive and original - I can see this one making the shortlist too. The book follows a Chinese family in California after the goldrush. The story is in four parts.

In the first part we meet Lucy and her sibling Sam as they are forced to leave their house with the body of their dead father (Ba, a gambler and drinker) and a horse. They search for somewhere suitable to bury the man. Sam is also a girl, but dresses as a boy and acts t
Oct 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize.

The novel opens with a death. Sam and Lucy’s father, Ba, dies in the night. Their Ma is long gone and now it is just the two of them. Eleven and twelve years of age. The siblings do not even have the two silver dollars needed to cover their father’s eyes as is custom.

Now both their parents are dead, and they are alone in a world that at best dislikes and barely tolerates their kind. The reader is left in the dark as to how these two siblings have got into thi
Richard Derus
Real Rating: 2.5* of five

I think there's bleak, and then there's misery porn. Sam's trick with the half-carrot at the beginning is all I needed to know it's misery porn we're gettin' to here. Gave up at Lucy finding the fingers in their chest, and from that image never once looked back.

This quote seems to get a lot of love:
And wasn’t that the real reason for traveling, a reason bigger than poorness and desperation and greed and fury—didn’t they know, low in their bones, that as long as they move
lark benobi
May 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Zhang has created a vocabulary and a cadence for this novel that is unique, and that carries the story forward from one page to the next. It's a pleasure to read. A question that came to my mind was whether the novel derives its momentum from the magnificent language rather than from the story itself. Sometimes I felt the writing, however magnificent, didn't serve the apparent intention of the story. Sometimes the characters seemed to suffer simply because the author could imagine fantastic scen ...more
Dec 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book started off slow for me- I feared it would be another book that I was reading just because I had too (book club) and not enjoying.

But then I became invested and more so when I learned Ba’s story. From that point on, I could not stop reading.

This book opens with 2 sisters, Lucy and Sam, whose father has just died and as per Chinese custom, they must find a perfect place to bury him. A place that feels like home.

“What makes a home a home?”

That is a question that comes up frequently throu
Emily M
Aug 29, 2020 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars

What's great: the title. Poetic, intriguing and yet also literal

What's good: The revamped Western with ethnic diversity and tigers, the twist that transforms our perceptions of the Ba character in the second half, pacing.

What's fine: The Lucy character, Chinese prospector's daughter, trying to make her way in the hardscrabble West.

What's frankly annoying: Sam, Lucy's gender-noncomforming younger sister. Lucy and Sam's relationship was straight out of a creative writing class -- there m
Dec 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“What makes a ghost a ghost? Can a person be haunted by herself?”
How much of these hills is gold was simply put, one of the best novels I’ve read in years. A stunning story that was dripping with originality and writing that bled truth on every page. Absolutely transcendent of todays typical novel this book broke barriers and literally had me captivated late into the night, and the only thing C Pam Zhang left me with was an unbearable need for more, of her writing, of her beautiful short prose
K.J. Charles
Highly recommended book about two Chinese American children in the post gold-rush West trying to survive. The writing seems good but they are lugging their father's decomposing corpse around with them in a box while bits drop off it, and I am really not in the right place for this so noping out. ...more
May 23, 2020 rated it liked it
There are a lot of pros and cons to this novel. It was refreshing to read an account of the American West from a different perspective. The landscape writing was beautiful and the story represented the struggle and hardships of the gold rush well. The writing was elegant, but so much so that it left me feeling distant from the story. Characters were a little too cliché in many cases as well. Overall, a solid debut, but maybe too polished to draw me in.
I’ve actually been wanting to read this book since it came out last year, but hadn’t gotten around to it until recently, when one of my book clubs chose it as a monthly read. Going into this one, I will admit that I was a bit wary, as I’m not a fan of westerns (which is what this was billed as), but I was attracted to the premise of a story about a Chinese immigrant family in the American West during the gold rush era, which, of course, is not often seen in mainstream fiction. Now after having f ...more
Nov 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
C Pam Zhang’s stunning debut novel examines the myth of the American West from the vantage point of marginalized Chinese immigrants whose role in the California Gold Rush has rarely been acknowledged. The story begins in 1862 and focuses on two sisters Lucy,12, and Sam,11 (who identifies as male.) The children’s prospector/ miner father, Ba has died and the children whose mother had died earlier must bury him and survive. The book chronicles their struggle in a world defined by racism and povert ...more
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“And wasn’t that the real reason for traveling, a reason bigger than poorness and desperation and greed and fury—didn’t they know, low in their bones, that as long as they moved and the land unfurled, that as long as they searched, they would forever be searchers and never quite lost?” 12 likes
“I don't see how you can claim to own a place and treat it so poor, there are methods of getting what you want without tearing at the land like a pack of wild dogs.” 8 likes
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