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How Much of These Hills is Gold

Rathbones Folio Prize, 2021

Hardcover / ISBN-13: 9780349011462

Price: £14.99

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‘The boldest debut of the year . . . It is refreshing to discover a new author of such grand scale, singular focus and blistering vision’ Observer

America. In the twilight of the Gold Rush, two siblings cross a landscape with a gun in their hands and the body of their father on their backs . . .

Ba dies in the night, Ma is already gone. Lucy and Sam, twelve and eleven, are suddenly alone and on the run. With their father’s body on their backs, they roam an unforgiving landscape dotted with giant buffalo bones and tiger paw prints, searching for a place to give him a proper burial.

How Much of These Hills is Gold is a sweeping adventure tale, an unforgettable sibling story and a remarkable novel about a family bound and divided by its memories.

‘The 19th-century American West is the setting for C Pam Zhang’s impressive debut. Rickety wagons, gambling dens, dusty towns and dodgy outlaws stalk its pages . . . How Much of These Hills is Gold breaks the mould [as a] revisionist immigrant fable of the making of the West . . . a daring and haunting epic’ Sunday Times

‘A truly gifted writer’ Sebastian Barry, two-time Costa Book of the Year winner

‘Pure gold’ Emma Donoghue, Booker-shortlisted author of Room

‘Dazzling’ Daisy Johnson, Booker-shortlisted author of Everything Under



The year's best debut . . . a story of colonialism, Empire and "otherdom"
The i
a revisionist western that marks the debut of an arrestingly original writer
Sunday Times (Best Historical Books of the Year)
[One of] the books I most enjoyed this year . . . a retelling of the American west from the angle of Chinese immigrants . . . offer[s] readers the beauty of language, the intricacies and intensity of human emotions and a sense of timelessness
Yiyun Li, Observer (Best books of 2020)
Taking a spot in the Booker Prize longlist, this is a beautiful and captivating story of grief, belonging and adventure. Set in the afterglow of the great American gold rush, it follows the lives and brutal journey of two immigrant orphaned teenage girls after the unexpected death of their father in a coal-mining town where they are unwanted. Visceral and deeply though-provoking, it re-examines the American Dream in a compelling and unique way
A fierce feminist Western
Sunday Express (Best novels of the year)
C Pam Zhang's debut is ferocious, dark and gleaming, a book erupting out of the interstices between myth and dream, between longing and belonging. How Much of These Hills Is Gold tells us that stories--like people, like the rough and stunning landscape of California itself--are constantly in the process of being made, broken, and finally remade into something tender and new
LAUREN GROFF, New York Times-bestselling author of Fates and Furies
This exhilarating novel unweaves the myths of the American West and offers in their place a gorgeous, broken, soulful, feral song of family and yearning, origin and earth. C Pam Zhang is a brilliant, fearless writer. This book is a wonder
GARTH GREENWELL, author of What Belongs to You
How Much of These Hills is a miracle, as timely as it is timeless, propulsive but also wonderfully meditative, a ferocious, tender epic about vulnerable immigrant family trying to survive the American Gold Rush. I read it in one night and know I'll revisit it soon: I envy you your first read of this book
R.O. KWON, author of The Incendiaries
Intuitive, chewy, wonderful; the plot is devastating and the talent is dazzling. Zhang is a blazing writer
DAISY JOHNSON, Booker-shortlisted author of Everything Under
Zhang writes with the clear-eyed lucidity of ancient myth-makers whose eyes are attuned to the vicissitudes of nature and humanity. Her characters inhabit this universe with a distinct and memorable presence that will haunt readers in this riveting and truly remarkable debut
CHIGOZIE OBIOMA, Booker-shortlisted author of An Orchestra of Minorities
A ravishingly written revisionist story of the making of the West, C Pam Zhang's debut is pure gold
EMMA DONOGHUE, Booker-shortlisted author of Room
A truly gifted writer
In this haunting adventure story set during the Gold Rush, two newly orphaned Chinese American immigrants are on the run in a ravaged landscape. Lucy and Sam carry the body of their newly deceased father as they roam, in pursuit of a place to give him a proper burial. Fusing Chinese symbolism and re-imagined history, this debut explores the question of where immigrants are allowed to belong, memories that bind and divide families, the illusion of the American Dream and the search for a home and fortune
Zhang's bleak, brutal and brilliant debut rewrites the history of the American West with a story of two siblings battling to survive during the gold rush
iPaper (Best of the Arts in 2020)
Zhang's debut novel is a smart, beautiful and intimate legend, not only of an immigrant family, but also of an expanding empire. One day, a pair of teenage siblings wake up to the sudden death of their father, a former prospector and coal miner. In the afterglow of the American gold rush, the two girls find themselves orphaned and vulnerable, and their very existence as immigrants is denied by this seemingly promising land. Carrying a stolen horse, their father's body, and a pistol, they set off on their journey to give their father a proper burial. In their adventure, they witness the extermination of giant buffalos, encounter the ghosts of ruined nature, and discover family memories. How Much of These Hills is Gold ambitiously examines the nation's long neglected racialised past and, more importantly, brings those individuals to life again on the page, with their desire and anger, longing and frustration
The Millions
[An] extraordinary debut . . . Gorgeously written and fearlessly imagined, Zhang's awe-inspiring novel introduces two indelible characters whose odyssey is as good as the gold they seek
Publishers Weekly
A first-time novelist explores timely questions about home and belonging in a story set during the gold rush in a reimagined American West . . . Zhang asks readers to acknowledge a legacy we have been taught to ignore by creating a new and spellbinding mythology of her own. Aesthetically arresting and a vital contribution to America's conversation about itself
Kirkus Reviews
A vibrant, compassionate and beautifully written book about belonging, family and ambition. I loved it
Elizabeth Macneal, author of The Doll Factory
Sure to be the boldest debut of the year, How Much of These Hills Is Gold . . . grapples with the legend of the wild west and mines brilliant new gems from a wellworn setting . . . 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 . . . How Much of These Hills Is Gold is an impressive debut . . . The prose carries an airless, uniquely pungent flavour. By the end, it has built into an epic, powerfully wrought journey, and it is refreshing to discover a new author of such grand scale, singular focus and blistering vision
A literary western with a fresh take on gender and feminism that's been likened to Sarah Waters
Chinese migration to Gold Rush California was among the themes of Peter Ho Davies's The Fortunes a few years back. The subject gets a bolder treatment in this imposing U.S. debut, a mythical Western that upends the racial and gender stereotypes of the genre. Zhang's acknowledgements namecheck Michael Ondaatje and Annie Proulx, and, like them, she wields mercurial prose style - ornate yet clipped, rugged as well as ethereal
Daily Mail
C Pam Zhang's debut novel rewrites the American West's whitewashed history . . . [a] sweeping, highly anticipated debut . . . Zhang has created a unique style: her writing has a kind of blunt poetry, conjuring a landscape familiar yet strange, and plays with English and Mandarin . . . With her novel - an adventure, a bildungsroman, a tribute to the harsh, gorgeous terrain - Zhang sets out to challenge 'the way in which waves of immigrants have been framed in American consciousness', and addresses how harmful stereotypes can be . . . This remarkable book is a fresh interpretation of a storied past that shows the power of the American Dream - but also its cost
Harper's Bazaar
One of the books of the year
[How Much of These Hills is Gold] belongs on a shelf all its own, an epic about a family that did not come West for the gold rush, but came East from China . . . [Zhang's] powers of lyrical description are stunning
Scott Simon, NPR
If there ever was a time to throw yourself headfirst into the thoroughly engrossing saga that is C Pam Zhang's debut novel, this is it . . . A fully immersive epic drama packed with narrative riches and exquisitely crafted prose . . . 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
San Francisco Chronicle
As she depicts their journey, Zhang prompts the reader to think about whose stories are told from this period of American history - fictional or not - and adds her urgent voice to the genre
Lyrical and mythic, How Much of These Hills is Gold reconceives the immigrant narrative to tell an original story of racism and American greed
AV Club
An emotional new debut . . . Set in the midst of the American gold rush, C Pam Zhang's epic debut follows two orphaned siblings, Lucy and Sam, who confront the fantasy of the American Dream while carrying their father's body across the west in search of a place to bury him
Sunday Express
[A] unique, discomforting reimagining of the American West adventure . . . a story that combines brutal beauty and dreamlike horror . . . a book about loneliness, belonging and the ferocious delusion of the American dream. The story is conveyed in a spare, lyrical prose with sharp, pronounced imagery
Johanna Thomas-Corr, The Times
C Pam Zhang's arresting, beautiful first novel is filled with myths of her own making as well as sorrows and joys
New York Times
[An] imaginative, vital debut novel . . . Zhang's searing words pierce the heart of America's founding mythology, laying bare its lies and offering up a new, much-needed vision of this country and its people
Heart-stoppingly lyrical
USA Today
Outstanding . . . Zhang does more than just push against the cowboy narrative: She shoves it clear out of the way . . . at once subversive and searching
Washington Post
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 . . . [It's] 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 . . . By journey's end, you're enriched and enlightened by the lives you have witnessed
New York Times Book Review
Stunning . . . a long-overdue treatment of the American West
Outside Magazine
If there is a top-secret list of crucial writers that everyone will have read three years from now, I feel confident that C Pam Zhang will be on it
The 19th-century American West is the setting for C Pam Zhang's impressive debut. Rickety wagons, gambling dens, dusty towns and dodgy outlaws stalk its pages . . . How Much of These Hills is Gold breaks the mould [as a] revisionist immigrant fable of the making of the West . . . each new revelation becomes compulsive . . . it blossoms into a daring and haunting epic
Sunday Times
[An] arresting debut novel . . . [it] has a mythic quality through which Zhang dissects history and belonging . . . One thought echoes through the book: "What makes a home a home?" With each act a new meaning emerges - beneath the grit is a tender and searching tale
Francesca Carington, Sunday Telegraph
Reminiscent of both Cormac McCarthy and Toni Morrison . . . a fine debut
Irish Times
This wonderful debut is set during the dying days of the Californian gold rush and tells the tough, tender story of Lucy, 12, and her sister Sam, 11. Their father Ba has just died, their mother is long gone, and the duo needed two silver dollars to bury their dad. After they bungle a bank raid, they flee on a stolen horse with their father's body packed in a trunk. En route, we learn about their family history and the hardships of their lives
Eithne Farry, Daily Mirror
In this stylized and complex debut novel, two children, born near the end of the gold rush, wander through the harsh Western landscapes searching for a place to bury their father, a failed prospector . . . The story is narrated by the soft, scholastic twelve-year-old Lucy, as she journeys with her younger sibling, Sam, who struts in imitation of their father, and of the cowboys of their time. While the book presents a counter-narrative to conventional tales of America's origins, it also interrogates the more intimate dimensions of belonging and memory
New Yorker
Bleak and brilliant . . . Like so much of the greatest US fiction, this is a story of the American Dream, that ever-shifting thing, which has driven the nation since it was first formed. But there is a difference here. Zhang's novel, both epic and intimate, is one of immigration and outsiderdom; of what it feels like to be rejected by the country you have been told is yours . . . tenderness shines through this novel, ensuring that, for all its horrors and hard-won truths, Zhang's haunting, melancholy story still feels lit by hope. Beautifully written, perfectly conceived and devastating - for days after reading the final page, all I could do was sit and think about it
Sarah Hughes, The i
Set in the dying days of the Californian gold rush, this is the tender story of two siblings: bookworm Lucy, 12, and her androgynous sister Sam, 11, who are forced to go on the run after a bungled bank raid. The landscape they journey through is gorgeous and grievous; a graveyard of the untold stories of the immigrants who suffered as the American West was mined for gold and coal
In her widely anticipated debut novel, C Pam Zhang has reinvented the Western genre - claiming it as a vehicle for Chinese-American history and identity. And what a ride it is: epic, relentless and written with elegant economy . . . Zhang's writing has the precision of a surgeon . . . How Much Of These Hills Is Gold is, at its heart, an action-filled tale with emotional depth. Zhang acknowledges Little House On The Prairie and Lonesome Dove, among others, as influences, but the novel's literary ancestry is most evidently Toni Morrison's Beloved . . . Just as Morrison's classic opened up a space to articulate the hurt and truths of America's history of slavery, Zhang's work rewrites the mythology of the American dream - with the addition of Chinese immigrant railroad workers and prospectors opening up the American West. Both novels give voice to long-forgotten ghosts. And about time, too
Straits Times
Zhang's tale of two sisters during the gold rush is a beautifully written and hard-hitting take on immigration, love, loss and belonging
The i (Books of the year)
A western with a difference, about two Chinese-American orphans who have to manoeuvre their way through trouble
Sunday Times (best summer reads 2020)
An adventure story that explores the themes of memory, family and belonging
BBC (Best books of 2020)
Poignant, haunting, beautiful. In her debut novel, C Pam Zhang tells the story of an immigrant family and two newly orphaned siblings who are on the run in a reimagined, gold-rush-era American West. It's a story about trying to belong, trying to locate yourself in history, and trying to understand what it means to be home. It's a story about family secrets, the responsibilities that weigh us down and buoy us, and the choices people make when they don't have any. And it's also a story about our relationship to nature and what's been edited out, rewritten, or stolen from one culture by another. It stuns
Goop.com (Gwyneth Paltrow Goop Book Club)
Set in the dying days of the Californian gold rush, this tough, tender debut follows the fate of two young sisters who are forced to go on the run after a bungled bank raid. Peopled by unforgettable characters, Zhang has created a fierce feminist Western
Daily Mail
The haunting and heartbreaking story of two immigrant children coping alone amid the fading leftovers of the Gold Rush in 19th-century California
the i
This is a beautiful and captivating story of grief, belonging and adventure. Set in the afterglow of the great American gold rush, it follows the lives and brutal journey of two immigrant orphaned teenage girls after the unexpected death of their father in a coal-mining town where they are unwanted. Visceral and deeply thought-provoking, it re-examines the American Dream in a compelling and unique way
I loved C Pam Zhang's How Much of These Hills is Gold. The novel follows two young sisters who are trying to survive following the death of their immigrant parents. It is set in the American west during the gold rush era. The writing is so immersive and its bleak beauty should sweep you away
Douglas Stuart, author of Shuggie Bain, Herald