C Pam Zhang’s debut novel, How Much of These Hills Is Gold, follows a Chinese-American family without a name. Ma, Ba (father), Lucy, and Sam are immigrant, migrant, and the children thereof.
Divided into four a-chronological sections, the novel spans America’s Gold Rush Era. In Part One, Ba is dead, “And long gone, Ma.” But for Ba’s body and a stolen horse, Lucy and Sam are destitute when they set out to bury their father properly. While Lucy wills every step to take her away from her past, toward a white lace dress and civilization, Sam carries a disparate inheritance and disparate dreams. Begun as a journey to stay a spirit, the siblings take up the mantle of their parents’ search for self and home.
I have never encountered a person who is not fully human in 35 years of private practice as a clinical psychologist. Diagnoses, country-of-origin, race, religion, and financial status do not define people. Not at all. Why do we say that a person has cancer or has arthritis and, conversely, say that a person is autistic or is an immigrant as if those labels completely define them?
Assigning labels condemns people
to a marginalized purgatory. Perceived to be less than human, unable to love or
feel pain, they’re relegated to the sidelines of life and deemed to be odd,
bizarre, even dangerous.
As long as there have been people walking the Devil’s Highway, there have been deaths. It is Desolation. It is a wasteland where any green vegetation is grey and were temperatures rise up to the triple digits. Here, bones pepper the region and Levi jeans last longer than flesh. In this book, Luis Alberto Urrea paints a harrowing true story of twenty-six men who took the forty mile death march across the Arizona desert in hopes of prosperity in the United States. Only twelve made it out.
Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions by Valeria Luiselli (Coffee House Press, 2017)
Reviewed by Rebecca Valley
In Tell Me How it Ends, novelist Valeria Luiselli sheds the cloak of fiction to write a different kind of narrative – one that, as the author’s daughter discovers, doesn’t have a neat ending. The book tackles Luiselli’s experience volunteering at an immigration court in New York City, where she translated the answers migrant children gave to the questions that stood between a return to their home country and the promise of a new life in the United States. Continue reading →