cover image How Much of These Hills Is Gold

How Much of These Hills Is Gold

C Pam Zhang. Riverhead, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-525-53720-5

Zhang’s extraordinary debut, a beautifully rendered family saga, centers on a pair of siblings, Lucy, 12, and Sam, 11, who are left orphaned in the wake of the American gold rush. When their father—a former prospector and coal miner whom they call Ba—dies after a short, hard life of toil and drink, Lucy and Sam want to bury him properly, according to Chinese burial traditions. This means two silver dollars to cover his eyes, but it’s two silver dollars the two don’t have. Clever Lucy attempts to appeal to the townspeople’s sympathy, but it’s hotheaded Sam, armed with their father’s pistol, who understands that it takes force to make things happen. With their father’s decomposing body, the pistol, and a stolen horse, Lucy and Sam disappear into the hills. As they search for a burial site and look forward to a future for themselves, Lucy and Sam reckon with how gold, ambition, and desire shaped the lives of both their Ba and their beautiful, beloved, and long-departed Ma, whose womanhood never dampened her hunger and ambition, and how that greed has been passed down to them. Gorgeously written and fearlessly imagined, Zhang’s awe-inspiring novel introduces two indelible characters whose odyssey is as good as the gold they seek. (Apr.)