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Check It Out: How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang

This is Jessi Wakefield with the Sioux City Public Library and you’re listening to Check It Out. 

Today I would like to recommend the bleak and unforgettable 2020 Booker Prize nominated How Much of These Hills is Gold, the debut novel by author C Pam Zhang. 

In this expansive historical novel, Zhang brings to life the waning days of the gold rush, as experienced by a Chinese-American couple and their two children, studious Lucy and tomboyish Sam. Lucy and Sam bicker constantly, each having different relationships with their parents, each thinking the other is more loved. Their personalities are as different as night and day and neither one can really see the perspective of the other, but they must rely on each other when at the ages of 12 and 11, they are left orphaned and homeless. 

The heart of the novel is the girls’ search for belonging, along with their fraught relationship. Lucy wants the finer things in life, to be taken care of, and to find a place to settle down. Sam is wild, adventurous, not wanting to rely on anyone, never wanting to settle down. At an early age, Sam begins dressing as a boy, thinking that this will protect both of them as they travel, but it is clear that Sam feels more comfortable as a man, than she ever did as a girl.  

A lot of this book reads like a Cormac McCarthy-style western, with morally conflicted characters and a perfect blend of lyrical prose and gritty coarseness. But for one portion of the book, Zhang taps into a more stream of consciousness writing approach akin to Faulkner, Joyce, or Kerouac as she takes a detour and reveals the backstory of the siblings’ parents, from the perspective of their dead father. 

Contact the Sioux City Public Library to get your copy of How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang. 

Support for Check It Out on Siouxland Public Media comes from Avery Brothers.