C Pam Zhang Reinvents the West

Forget everything you think you know about California. How Much of These Hills Is Gold upends Old West tropes and Golden State assumptions.

how much of these hills is gold author c pam zhang
How Much of These Hills Is Gold author C Pam Zhang.

American westerns are often limited by particular assumptions about race and gender, as well as about history itself. C Pam Zhang’s debut novel fearlessly rearranges such tropes into new shapes, discarding and recontextualizing even the most steadfast of ideas. Zhang’s gold rush–era setting is peppered with coal mines; buffalo bones bleach in the sun, and tiger prints appear in dry soil. What it adds up to is a reinvention of the Old West—near-apocalyptic in its despair and longing—in which Zhang’s protagonist, Lucy, must find a way to make a home. Her journey back and forth across topography and circumstance makes for a superb and moving work.


• By C Pam Zhang
• Riverhead Books, 288 pages, $26

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