The orphan son of Chinese immigrants, Ming Tsu is brought up to be an assassin by a California bandit in Tom Lin’s one-of-a-kind Western, The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu. Ming hopes for a better future after he elopes with Ada, the daughter of a railroad mogul. But when Ada is abducted and Ming is forced to go to work for the Central Pacific Railroad, he’s determined to seek retribution. Supernatural elements blend seamlessly with the epic plot, which makes room to note the prejudices of the 19th century.
Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse looks at the life of an orphaned Ojibway boy in 1960s Ontario, Canada. Saul Indian Horse attends a bleak Catholic boarding school. A professional sports career becomes a possibility for Saul after he joins an Ojibway hockey team, yet he faces prejudice and hostility due to his heritage. As he comes of age, he must also come to terms with his past—and prepare for an uncertain future. Wagamese draws upon Ojibway language and lore as he traces Saul’s remarkable personal journey, and the result is a starkly beautiful neo-Western novel.
Set in the American West during the gold rush, C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills Is Gold tells the epic story of a Chinese American family. When their father, a hardworking miner, dies, orphans Sam and Lucy decide to give him a traditional Chinese burial. After being forced to leave their home, they embark on a quest to find the right place to lay their father to rest, traveling through harsh terrain with his corpse carried on horseback. Zhang plumbs myths about the American West as she dissects themes of nature, home and immigration in this rewarding book club pick.
Anna North reimagines the traditional Western with Outlawed. In an alternate 1890s, happily married Ada finds that she’s unable to bear children. Afraid that she’ll be charged with witchcraft—a typical occurrence for childless women—Ada flees her home and eventually joins the Hole in the Wall Gang. A collective of female and nonbinary fugitives, the gang hopes to establish a town where marginalized people can flourish. Ada’s adventures with the gun-toting band make for great reading, with gender, community and identity being but a few of the novel’s rich discussion topics.