The California Book Club Kicks Off with C Pam Zhang

The author of How Much of These Hills Is Gold joins John Freeman for the first meeting of the monthly club.

c pam zhang, john freeman, gary noy, california book club
John Freeman (left) hosted a discussion with the novelist C Pam Zhang. Also taking part was the historian Gary Noy.

And we’re off and running! The California Book Club had its official launch on October 15 with C Pam Zhang, author of the debut novel How Much of These Hills Is Gold. Zhang joined our host, John Freeman, for a wide-ranging conversation that covered her California roots, her fascination with mythologies, and how she conceived her gold rush–era novel.

Joining Freeman and Zhang to provide some historical context was Gary Noy, the author of Hellacious California! Tales of Rascality! Revelry! Dissipation! and Depravity! and the Birth of the Golden State. Noy said that Chinese miners in gold country were not only discriminated against and subjected to violence—they also had to pay an exorbitant foreign miners’ tax.

Audience members also took part in the meeting, asking their own questions.

Freeman praised Zhang’s novel—about two sisters who must cope with the death of their father—as being perfect for the autumn of 2020. He called it “a book that might speak to those of us who have had to bury a parent, a book that might give us some sense of consolation if we’ve had to go to a bank with nothing in our pockets, a book that holds us in the warm embrace of adventure and yet reminds us that adventure has often been a fig leaf for theft, a book that pays tribute to California’s awesome and terrifyingly precarious landscape.”

Zhang began her novel after the death of her own father. She was born in Beijing, and her family lived in Kentucky before moving to Salinas, California. She was immediately fascinated with the “immensity of the landscape” of the West, she said. “How spectacular and also how fearsome it is.”

To watch a recording of the full event, click here.

And to register for the California Book Club for free, go here.

John McMurtrie edits for McSweeney’s Publishing and the literary travel magazine Stranger’s Guide.
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