by C Pam Zhang
Publisher: Virago April 2020
How Much of These Hills is Gold
C Pam Zhang
I finished this book two days ago and yet certain images from it continue to haunt me: the buffalo bones, the dust, the tiger paw prints and mostly, the flecks of gold. It is these flecks of gold that drive many individuals and families from all over the globe to seek their fortune trying to find still in the aftermath of the American old rush. This fortune proves allusive and potentially destructive, leaving us to question what we should really hold to be valuable.
Samantha and Lucy are siblings whose family came to America in search of this fortune and are trying to find out who they are in a world that is incredibly hostile. The non-linear narrative introduces the reader to the sisters once their father has died from grief and alcoholism, their mother having abandoned them unable to cope with the life of mining and prospecting. A life she was little aware she would be facing after having crossed the ocean. They are trying to bury their father the best way they know however come up against many obstacles not just in terms of the racist attitudes that prevail in the attitudes of those around them who claim ‘this is our land’ but also the brutality and unforgiving nature of the landscape. It chokes, it pushes and pulls. It is oblivious and uncaring to the toils of humanity.
The landscape dominates the novel as something that draws people to it and as something that is impossible to escape from. The heat and its oppressiveness offering very little that can sustain life seems also to be a metaphorical representation of the lives of the villagers who try to live off it. It seems everyone is a victim however it is the women of this novel who seem to be the ones who suffer the most greatly. Their bodies are beaten, bruised; either perpetually pregnant or there for the gratification of men however this is not a novel without hope. Both Sam and Lucy, in their different ways, seem to forge their own path. The novel is viscerally haunting. A novel about survival, identity and finding your own home within a world that is in constant turmoil and change. Truly remarkable.