“What glitters may not be gold; and even wolves may smile; and fools will be led by promises to their deaths.” ― Lauren Oliver

When thinking about the California Gold Rush, images of men in dusty clothes panning in a river are what come to mind. Of course, history is written by the victors, so voices and faces of those who failed to find gold or were robbed of their fortunes don’t always make it into the oversized textbooks we study in elementary school. Our latest read tells the story of orphaned Asian siblings trying to find a home out West after the Gold Rush.

How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang

In C Pam Zhang’s debut novel she tells the story of two siblings trying to honor their father with a proper burial and find a new home. Lucy and Sam don’t find it to be too difficult to survive in the harsh hills on their own as they search for the best place to bury their father. Lucy envies Sam for the close relationship her sibling had with their father, while Lucy often felt only her father’s drunken wrath. While the siblings cart the body through the hillside, Lucy considers all she has survived in her young life and longs for a home for herself and Sam.

“How Much of These Hills Is Gold” bursts with an electric energy as the children reach out their hands, not just for survival, but for a home to call their own. Living in a territory where their faces mark them as different, in a harsh place where the children have to live off the land or steal to survive; their father’s endlessly optimistic pursuit of gold drives Sam to want more adventure, while Lucy dreams of a simple life among other people. As the siblings go about their travels Zhang unveils the events of the children’s childhood as well their family’s origin story. Zhang writes a rich narrative, echoing the suffering and hope of a failed prospector’s child in Lucy and Sam’s haunting search for a home.

From the book jacket…

Ba dies in the night; Ma is already gone. Newly orphaned children of immigrants, Lucy and Sam are suddenly alone in a land that refutes their existence. Fleeing the threats of their western mining town, they set off to bury their father in the only way that will set them free from their past. Along the way, they encounter giant buffalo bones, tiger paw prints, and the specters of a ravaged landscape as well as family secrets, sibling rivalry, and glimpses of a different kind of future.

If you enjoy…

Readers who found themselves arrested by Zhang’s book might also be intrigued by Afia Atakora’s novel “Conjure Women.” It is a story of magic and healing, of loss and suffering and a quilt of secrets that rests on the shoulders of the women working and living on a Southern plantation before and after the Civil War.