What makes a ghost a ghost? Can a person haunted by herself?
I dived right into C Pam Zhang’s booker listed novel with nothing but the words ‘a western’ in my mind. I knew nothing of the plot but that it was set somewhere dusty and in the wild wild west.
The story follows Lucy and Sam, now orphans as they make their way through the harsh landscape of the West, forging their own paths in the twilight of the Gold Rush. The sisters encounter many types of people on their path east; a fur trapper, brothel owner, wealthy young girl, all who are ominous in their own ways.
Ba dies in the night, prompting them to seek two silver dollars.
Zhang’s writing is impeccable, her nuances and attention to detail is incredibly beguiling, her characters so beautifully human. Lucy and Sam are both searching, learning what makes a home, what makes ones’ family, what makes the truth true.
The novel skips between the past and the present, where we learn about Lucy and Sam’s parents and how they came to be, the secrets of their parents slowly revealed. We see another side to each sister as the landscape shapes their being.
Maybe the travel goes quicker on account of the two of them being more alike than Lucy remembers. Same and yet changed. On the day Lucy tears her skirt, Sam draws needle quicker than gun.
Zhang writes a novel that hasn’t been written before. A phenomenal feat. How Much of These Hills Is Gold explores more than the American Gold Rush, it explores a culture lost, people displaced; it explores what it is to be human when humanity is denied.
I don’t want to say much more as this one is a novel best enjoyed blind. There are so many brilliant things about this novel and I am entirely convinced I will see it upon the shortlist with great potential for a win.
She thinks of the other direction. The hills where she was born, and the sun that bleaches the sky and brightens the grass. She thinks about when she stood in a dead lake and held what men desired and died or She thinks that was nothing, really, compared to the way the noonday sun makes the grass blaze. Horizon to horizon a shimmer.
What did you think of this one? I’ll definitely be seeking out more of Zhang’s writing.