How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C. Pam Zhang [in Booklist]
Beijing-born, globally-trotted, San Francisco-domiciled C. Pam Zhang “is still looking for home,” her author bio shouts. That search for home – uncertain, elusive, just-out-of-reach – looms throughout Zhang’s mesmerizing debut novel in which a family of four (which should have been five) never quite arrives. Avoiding grounding details – geography remains generally unnamed, centuries are literally Xed out (“XX62,” Part One begins) – Zhang reveals as much through deliberate elision as meticulous storytelling.
Somewhere in the American West, the Gold Rush has waned, coal mining is stifling, assumed foreigners remain suspect. Already motherless for three-and-a-half-years, 12-year-old Lucy and 11-year-old Sam become orphans when their Ba dies. Their need to find a “home” for Ba’s remains becomes an epic quest that both estranges and unites them.
Traversing decades through four succinct parts – sibling flight in XX62, Ma’s plans in XX59, Ba’s origins in XX42 and beyond, surviving adulthood in XX67 – Zhang, just 29, writes with precocious assurance as she confronts the inseparable connections between lies, liars, and secrets; the barriers of language; the impossible price of family bonds, and the everlasting longing to find home.