23. ilb 06. - 16.09.2023

C Pam Zhang

C Pam Zhang was born in Beijing in 1990. She moved to the United States with her family at the age of four and her childhood and early life was defined by their constant moving around. Zhang studied at Brown University and at Cambridge University, where she earned a MFA in Fiction. At the end of her studies, she worked at a start-up in San Francisco, which left her little time to focus on her writing. She ultimately decided to leave the United States for some time and move to Bangkok, where she wrote short stories and the first drafts of her debut novel.
»How Much of These Hills is Gold«, published in 2020, is set during the gold rush of the American West. The author creates a historically inspired story laced with unreal elements, in which, for example, tigers roam the Wild West. The book tells the story of twelve-year-old Lucy and eleven-year-old Sam, children of Chinese migrants. They lose their father, who dreamed of discovering a great gold find, after their mother had already died three and a half years earlier. Left on their own and penniless, Lucy and Sam struggle to survive in a hostile environment. They need two silver dollar coins, which – according to the death ritual – they must place on their father’s eyes in order to bury him. With the decomposing corpse transported in a makeshift chest on the back of a stolen horse, they go in search of a suitable burial place. »How Much of These Hills Is Gold« is a book about the »loneliness of immigrants«, according to Zhang, as well as about racism and the need to grieve. The novel, which is rich in imagery and sets a unique atmosphere, is also an implicit memorial to the forgotten Chinese workers who played an integral role in building the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s and were prevented from becoming U.S. citizens by the Chinese Exclusion Act, which began in 1882. According to »The New Yorker«, the book »presents a counter-narrative to conventional tales of America’s origins, [it also interrogates the more intimate dimensions of belonging and memory,] asking, over and over, ›What makes a home a home‹?«. »How Much of These Hills Is Gold« won the Academy of Arts and Letters Rosenthal Award and the Asian/Pacific Award for Literature, and was nominated for the 2020 Booker Prize, among others.
Zhang’s short stories and essays have appeared in a number of print and online publications, including »The New York Times«, »Harper’s Bazaar«, and »The New Yorker«. Zhang was a 2017 Truman Capote Fellow and a participant in the Iowa Writerʼs Workshop. She is one of the National Book Foundation’s »5 Under 35 Honorees« and lives in San Francisco.