How Much of These Hills Is Gold

Riverhead. Apr. 2020. 288p. ISBN 9780525537205. $26. F
DEBUT With visceral directness, Zhang opens her first novel with two children waking in a mining camp in the late 1800s American West and finding their father dead. As narrated by older child Lucy, various details emerge, if not explicitly; these children are of Asian ancestry, and the younger child, Sam, identifies as a boy but is biologically a girl. Discriminated against and destitute, the siblings flee with the corpse on a stolen horse; their flight finally comes to an end when they can bury their father. The book then shifts to their parents’ backstory, unfolding the family’s origins, their gold-fueled success, and their downfall when they lose their mother. The story then jumps forward five years, with Sam off adventuring as a man and Lucy acting as a companion to a wealthy white woman. Once they reunite, they set off to cross back to Asia, and on the way Lucy pays for Sam’s freedom with her own. But at what cost?
VERDICT This moving tale of family, gold, and freedom rings with a truth that defies rosy preconceptions. The description of human and environmental degradation is balanced by shining characters who persevere greatly. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 10/7/19.]

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