Archive for the ‘self-awareness’ Tag

Riches and Losses   Leave a comment

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C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills is Gold can be read as either a question or an exclamation. It depends as much on the characters’ perspectives as the reader’s, which frequently changes but isn’t distracting.

Two siblings, Lucy age 12 and Sam age 11, of Chinese descent are left as orphans. Lucy’s pragmatic whereas Sam, their father’s favorite, is stubborn. Both are intelligent, but in different ways. The first thing they need to do is bury their Ba, something they must do with some semblance of tradition. Memories of him and their Ma, who is already gone, provide the family history: life as outcasts; how Ba and Ma met; Lucy’s passion for education; Sam’s disdain of the status quo; and more. So much more.

The plot unfolds as the Gold Rush has passed its heyday and railroad lines are being set across the west. Zhang’s writing is beautifully descriptive, not only of the northern California inland but the people inhabiting the harsh environment.

Lucy’s the focus of most of the story, although Sam, Ba and Ma are vividly brought to life. Yet, Zhang has crafted a family portrait full of flaws, loyalty, tradition and equal parts optimism and pessimism. Ba was born in California and was abandoned as a child. He’s Chinese, but doesn’t know the language – something he eventually learns from his wife.

Within this poignant adventure of Lucy and Sam on their own are issues of racism, sexual identity and the meaning of family.

How Much of These Hills is Gold
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2020
272 pages

Storytelling At Its Finest   3 comments

Maya

Isabel Allende is a master storyteller. Her characters have depth; their lives are full of mystery, love and befuddlement. Her most recent novel, Maya’s Notebook, is no exception. Well, it is, because it’s exceptional – even for Allende.

Maya is a 19-year-old girl on the lam on a remote island off the coast of Chile, her grandmother’s homeland. Maya was raised in Berkeley by her grandparents, a couple remarkable in their differences and their passion for life. Maya’s father floats in and out in a minor role; her mother doesn’t even rate that distinction. Several stories are told through Maya’s journal. She recounts her magical childhood, her arrival in Chiloe’ and counters these almost idyllic recollections with the explanation of why she is in hiding. The book’s first sentence, while seemingly melodramatic, creates suspense: “… if I valued my life at all, I should not get in touch with anyone I knew until we could be sure my enemies were no longer looking for me.”

Maya writes of her past and present in chronological order until the two eventually intersect. She begins with how her grandparents met and moves into how, as an infant, she came to live with them. Allende builds tension through Maya’s descriptions of her avalanche of mistakes made as an adolescent. Grief and environment contributed to one bad decision after another. Yet, a sense of calm surfaces as Maya relates her life in Chiloe’ while learning to appreciate the world around her and her place in it.

Maya’s Notebook
Five Bookmarks
Harper Collins, 2013
387 pages