📖: C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills is Gold (2020)
🍸: gold grass
Why this book?
“This land is not your land.” This is the epigraph that opens this luminous novel about two orphaned Chinese American siblings that venture through the American West, in search of a new home.
But no matter where they go, they are still outsiders, and even though they were born on this land, they are excluded from owning any of it. On top of it all, the land was stolen from Indigenous Peoples, so it was never theirs to claim in the first place.
In a word, this novel was poignant. In thinking about my experiences as an immigrant in America, I related to Lucy and Sam’s feelings of being “othered” in the only place that feels like home. Like the children, I want that unquestionable sense of belonging, but it can remain elusive.
Another part of the novel that I kept thinking about was Lucy’s rejection of Ba’s fantastical tales about the land before the gold miners’ arrival. She favors the neatly packaged history she learns in school. Maybe because this sanitized version of history gives her hope that she can still find her place in this country. Or maybe it allows her to feel that her family isn’t also implicated in exploiting the land, despite their prospecting activities.
This aspect of the novel made me reflect on Baldwin, Coates, and Laymon’s idea of how much our country wants to avoid the truth behind our history, and in doing so, defines who can and can’t belong here. The versions of history we choose to believe indeed matter.
I love that this novel centers the experience of a Chinese American family in the West. And I appreciated that their narrative is complicated by the knowledge of how Indigenous Peoples are impacted as the family searches for prosperity. What does it mean to belong to a land that doesn’t belong to you? I can’t wait to see what C Pam Zhang will write next.
Why this drink?
I’m pairing this novel with the Gold Rush cocktail since this period sets the stage for the story.
2 oz bourbon
0.75 oz lemon juice
0.75 oz honey syrup
lemon peel and rosemary
- to make the honey syrup, heat 3 parts honey with 1 part water over the stove until the mixture dissolves into a syrup
- combine all ingredients in a shaker, and shake with ice
- strain into a chilled glass with fresh ice and garnish with lemon and rosemary
Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Wendy Law-Yone’s The Coffin Tree (1983)
Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
And check out this interview with C Pam Zhang to learn more about How Much of These Hills is Gold:
- Can Two Chinese American Orphans Find Home in the Wild West?, by Alexander Chang, Electric Lit, Apr 20, 2020