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’s sweeping descriptions of the West put me in mind of the Steinbeck; she captures well its aridness and wild beauty, as well as what it costs those who traverse the barren land ... Don’t get me wrong: Zhang’s voice and story are wholly her own. How Much of These Hills Is Gold is an arresting, beautiful novel that in no way directly mines another. But by invoking these tropes, she reimagines them for thousands of forgotten Americans of different races and gender orientations; her American West is no longer populated only by the all-white, predominantly male cast of characters who, we’ve been told, created it ... an aching book, full of myths of Zhang’s making as well as joys, as well as sorrows. It’s violent and surprising and musical. Like Lucy and Sam, the novel wanders down byways and takes detours and chances. By journey’s end, you’re enriched and enlightened by the lives you have witnessed.
Sure to be the boldest debut of the year ... C Pam Zhang grapples with the legend of the wild west and mines brilliant new gems from a well-worn setting ... The story is heavy with layers of trauma ... On the one hand, the novel is in close touch with the entire tradition of wild west mythology and film and many of its surface details and set dressing are highly familiar ... At the same time, the story feels completely original, flushed through with new and unexpected perspectives. Through Zhang’s deep attention, the classic western is given a rich new shading as race, gender, sexual identity, poverty and pubescence come into play. The novel is thick with detail, metaphor and oblique allusion ... at its core is a chilling sense of the utter loneliness and isolation felt by Lucy and Sam.
... [a] thoroughly engrossing saga ... Deceptively, How Much of These Hills Is Gold starts out slow. In the first section of four, Zhang lays the skeleton groundwork for the rest of the book while still keeping most of the salient details close to the vest ... But any misgivings about this book’s promise immediately evaporate in section two. Here and continuing on throughout the rest of the book, the transformation from run-of-the-mill Great American West adventure tale into a fully immersive epic drama packed with narrative riches and exquisitely crafted prose is so complete that it’s easy to chalk up the first few chapters to protracted scene-setting. Like any intuitive storyteller, Zhang exposes the truth about her characters by setting up well-worn, surface-level stereotypes and poking holes in them one by one ... On a basic level, How Much of These Hills Is Gold succeeds as a riveting account of one family’s struggle to make ends meet in the American West ... But the novel is also a much-needed homage to the untold history of American immigrants, one in which Zhang discards the tired retelling of our white forefathers’ journey to discover and conquer great new lands, in favor of giving a voice to the 'honest folks' of color who were enslaved, robbed, raped or murdered in the process ... Zhang captures not only the mesmeric beauty and storied history of America’s sacred landscape, but also the harsh sacrifices countless people were forced to make in hopes of laying claim to its bounty.