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Booker Longlist – How Much of These Hills is Gold – C Pam Zhang

gold

Book Five – reviewed by panelists Nicole, Tracy and Susie and rated by BookWorm.

C Pam Zhang Born in Beijing but mostly an artifact of the United States, C Pam Zhang has lived in thirteen cities across four countries and is still looking for home. 

Synopsis from Booker Prize website: 

How Much of These Hills is Gold tells an untold story of the arrival of Chinese-American immigrants to the US during the Gold Rush. It’s a novel about conflict between two siblings, carrying the body of their newly deceased father across a harsh landscape. Set during the Gold Rush, in a re-imagined American West, Lucy and Sam, twelve and eleven, are newly orphaned siblings. With their father’s body on their backs, they roam an unforgiving landscape dotted with buffalo bones and tiger paw prints, searching for a place to give him a proper burial. The siblings must battle with their own memories, the illusion of the American Dream and each other.

How Much of These Hills is Gold is an epic debut novel about family and the search for both a home and a fortune.

Nicole’s Thoughts: 

For the first 2/3rd of this book I was pretty bored.  The writing was very good, and I thought ‘well perhaps this book is just about the writing’.  The story, however, was nothing new. 

At Part 3, the book completely charged for me.  There was a brief perspective shift that put the whole previous part of the book in context and it changed how I felt about it.  I found that really interesting.  From there things got better and I ended up enjoying it a whole lot more.  

I can definitely see why this book was nominated for a Booker.  While I wasn’t personally bowled over by it, it’s definitely a worthy nominee. 

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 3/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 16/20

Tracy’s Thoughts: This is possibly the most unique book on the list- in terms of concept, at least. The idea of Chinese American prospectors in the wild west of the USA is intriguing, and the author did a nice job of placing the reader there. The diverging paths of the sisters was also nicely done, and their characters were clear- I found myself invested in their stories, and rooting for them both.

This tackled a lot of universal topics: racism, sexual orientation and identity, misogyny, gender expectations, and poverty to name a few. The author included them all well, though I think she may have been a bit ambitious otherwise. There was some magical realism and some fairy tale/tall tale inclusion that felt a bit stilted at times. The plot dragged occasionally because of this.  The ending was inconclusive- this isn’t usually a problem for me, but it sets up the possibility of a sequel. One I will watch for. 

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 3.5/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 1.5/2
Total: 17/20

Susie’s Thoughts: When I first started How Much Of These Hills Is Gold I thought it might be possible that I’d stumbled upon greatness. I was excited. A story of the American West from an a different viewpoint. A debut from a young Asian woman.

The prose in the first part was spare, brutal, and raw, yet poetic. It was clear to me that Zhang is a skilled storyteller. I still believe she is, but I wish she had stayed the course and continued telling the story from Lucy and Sam’s perspectives. The perspective shift in the second and subsequent parts was jarring and halted the momentum of what was a mesmerizing story. It descended into melodrama towards the end and lost the power that had captivated me at the beginning.

That being said, I saw glimmers of something special and I will definitely be reading Zhang’s next offering. I can see literary merit in How Much Of These Hills Is Gold, but I don’t think this is our Booker winner.

Writing quality: 3.5/5
Originality: 3.5/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development: 3.5/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 15.5/20

Book Worm’s Ratings: Overall I was very impressed with this debut novel.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 16/20

Rankings

  1. Apeirogon 18
  2. How Much of These Hills is Gold 16.1
  3. Shuggie Bain 15.3
  4. Such a Fun Age 11.1
  5. Redhead at the Side of the Road 11

Did you like the first half, the second half, the whole thing?

 

 

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