C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills Is Gold wasn’t what I was expecting. Which is silly, because I don’t even know what I was expecting—something kinda mythic, maybe? But I think I forgot how this got onto my to-read list, because in fact it’s a non-fantastic, non-genre story about a Chinese immigrant family (sort of) in the late 19th century American West.

There’s gold mining, there’s railroads, there’s coal mining, there’s San Francisco. But mostly, there’s the unspooling story of a family and their secrets and their history, and how none of their relationships were quite what they seemed. It’s a good book—it won all sorts of prizes, and deservedly so. It’s got a lot to say about the Chinese American experience, about how gender could play out in the past, about power and money, and especially about family.

But it’s also a fairly grim book. While I could see that objectively it’s excellent, for me personally it elicited more respect than enjoyment. Still, it was enough to keep me reading at a point where I was still thoroughly sick of literary fiction, which is not nothing. If I’d read this at a different time, I might be even more positive about it.


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