Another in the excellent Longmire mystery series, and let’s just cut to the chase. That’s a damn good thing, the series and this book. Sorry to say that I’ve missed a few episodes, and evidently Walt Longmire went through some serious stuff while I was away, but Walt and I go way back, so we took up like it was just yesterday. The mystique of wolves, a mysterious pest of a woman in a Tibetan cap, Basque shepherds and herding dogs, Longmire’s own monstrous canine Dog, the rugged beauty of Wyoming and an ailing, but still determined Walt Longmire. Yep. Temperature was in the 90’s here when I read this, but I was wearing a fleece lined jacket, riding in a 4X4 pick-up through the snowy mountains of Wyoming with Dog in the back. And there are braying mules, too. Every good story is improved by a jackass or two. Yep. So true. If you don’t know Longmire, jump in. If you only know Longmire from the TV series, you ain’t nothing but a city slicker. Take your Longmire straight – from the page. Real men read.
We’ve all been told that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression, and this book has that going on with a title that should live forever. First line is good, too. A killer – literally. “I was leading the cows to the milking shed when my pa shot Mr. Webber.” Nothing, not one thing could have stood between me and this book after that glorious beginning. The Heavens opened, and the angels sang. However……….oh, hold my hand, please, while I confess. Further reading betrayed me, and I found myself determined to dislike this one, to find fault. Melodramatic, a book in search of a direction, hyper-indulgent descriptive language, sentences that rambled on forever. In other words, I was peevish and digging it. Continued to read, though, maybe just to see how bad it could be, but author Olivia Hawker continued as well. Stitch by stitch, she built a gorgeous tapestry of a book – this very book – and my gnarly old heart had to relent. I gave it up to her work, and the angels sang once more.
Ms. Hawker says she wanted to write about death, however the book she wrote (perhaps inevitably so) is about life and the living – the eternal cycle, the hopeful over and over of all living things. Just to set the scene for you, it’s 1876 in the Wyoming territories, and the Webber and Bemis families have adjoining homesteads twenty miles away from Paintrock, the nearest town. No other neighbors, and there is bad blood between the two families. Death? It was never far away in those days. You will fret and worry and care. Maybe you’ll find a little fault, too, but it’s been a long time since a book earned my respect as this one did. Worked for it. Imagine that. High praise, and enough said. Readers, expect to be rewarded.
This title flew into bookstores back in October so shop your local indie bookstore for a copy.
Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by Lake Union Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.
The western portion of the Transcontinental Railroad was built almost entirely by immigrant Chinese, 20,000 or so of them. I expect most of us are vaguely aware of that, and I expect most of us are aware this was hard, dangerous work. Begun in 1864, finished in 1869, this portion stretches from Sacramento across the Sierra Nevadas, to the desert scrub of Promontory Point, Utah, a distance of 690 miles. This is history we think we learned in eighth grade. Gordon Chang takes our tiny tidbit and returns a thoroughly human story, extensively researched and rich in detail.
There was an impression then, and I suspect now, that the “Railroad Chinese” were enslaved workers, but California (the Gold Mountain of the title) was a free state, so it was important that incoming Chinese laborers were not being traded as slaves. Most of these men were contract workers who came willingly, following opportunity. However, Chinese women were bought in China and sold here as prostitutes, primarily for the “Railroad Chinese” – hmmm, the sex trade, as old as time and still with us today unfortunately.
All the work was done by hand – men with hand tools, wheelbarrows, black powder (a Chinese invention), horse carts and supply trains as the tracks extended. Teams of three men using an eight-pound sledge hammer and a pole with crude bit-end could tap roughly three blasting holes a day, mile after mile, for roadbeds and tunnels. Avalanches, explosions and fire, rock slides, entrapment, maiming injuries that would, as likely as not, ultimately kill a man. We can only estimate the number of deaths, however. Complete and/or accurate records of workers don’t exist. The railroad united our country coast to coast, but, except for a scant few, we don’t even know who these men were – the survivors or the fallen.
After the railroad was completed, some of the “Railroad Chinese” went back to China as they’d planned to do. Some continued as railroad workers here, in Canada, and elsewhere. Some remained, took jobs or opened businesses, and their descendants live among us. However, federal law immigration law prohibited anyone born in China from becoming a naturalized citizen, and that law was not changed until 1943. Nothing brings today into focus as blindingly as history does, and so I offer you Ghosts of Gold Mountain, a thorough, scholarly work and a good read as well.
Available from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on May 7. Click here to order/pre-order from your local indie bookstore or, if you prefer, from Amazon.
Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.