“Historically, the West has been this super masculine genre – the male cowboy, the male rancher, the male outlaw,” said North. “It’s a genre that was ripe to be reinvented or invented. There is something interesting and powerful about these myths, and it can be fun and liberating to play with it and create something that is your own. ”
Other writers reveal the way in which Westerners often portray native and immigrant characters as generic villains or victims, if they appear at all. Téa Obreht’s 2019 novel Inland, set in the American West in the late 19th century, featured an unorthodox cowboy: an immigrant from the Ottoman Empire rode a camel instead of a horse whose supernatural abilities includes the ability to sense emotions death.
Lin’s book is among the new westerners exploring the lives of Chinese Americans and immigrants who are largely left out of Western cultural history. Chinese immigrants made up up to 90 percent of the workforce on the Central Pacific railway line, but they were often exploited and denigrated and were later banned from obtaining citizenship by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
Jenny Tinghui Zhang, a Chinese-American author from Austin, set her upcoming debut novel, “Four Treasures of the Sky,” based on the Exclusion Act. It follows a girl named Daiyu who is kidnapped from China in the 1880s and taken to the American border, where she tries to find a place in the light of anti-Chinese sentiment and violence against immigrants.
“We’re starting to question a lot of the basic, overly simplistic mythologies about the country, and the western as a genre seems like a perfect means to challenge them,” said C Pam Zhang, whose Booker Prize-nominated debut in 2020 , “How Much of These Hills Are Gold,” is set during the Gold Rush in a fabulous version of the West where tigers roam around.
Zhang, who grew up reading “Little House on the Prairie,” said she wanted to write a fairy tale on the border that explored the loneliness of the immigrant experience and the clash between civilization and wilderness. In “How Much of These Hills Are Gold,” two orphaned Chinese American siblings, one of them transsexual, went out with a stolen horse in search of their fortune and a gravesite for their father.