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“Historically, the western was that super masculine genre – the male cowboy, the male rancher, the male outlaw,” said North. “It’s a genre that was ready to be reinvented or dismantled. There is something interesting and powerful about these myths, and it can be fun and liberating to play with and create something of your own. “
Other writers reveal the ways westerns often portray native and immigrant characters as generic villains or victims, if they appear at all. Téa Obdreh’s novel “Inland” from 2019, set in the American West at the end of the 19th century, shows an unorthodox cowboy: an immigrant from the Ottoman Empire who rides a camel instead of a horse, whose supernatural abilities have the ability heard the feelings of the dead.
Lin’s book is one of the new westerns that explores the lives of Chinese Americans and immigrants that have largely been left out of Western cultural history. Chinese immigrants comprised up to 90 percent of the workforce on the Central Pacific Railroad Line, but were often exploited and vilified and later barred from acquiring citizenship under the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
Jenny Tinghui Zhang, a Chinese-American writer from Austin, has set her upcoming debut novel “Four Treasures of the Sky” to music against the backdrop of the exclusion law. It follows a girl named Daiyu, kidnapped from China in the 1880s and taken to the American border, where she tries to find a place in the face of anti-Chinese sentiment and violence against immigrants.
“We are starting to question many of the basic, overly simplistic mythologies about the country, and the western as a genre seems like a perfect vehicle to challenge them,” said C. Pam Zhang, her debut for the 2020 Booker Prize was nominated. How Much of These Hills Is Gold is set in a fabulous version of the West with tigers roaming during the gold rush.
Zhang, who grew up reading Little House on the Prairie, said she wanted to write a frontier adventure story that explores the loneliness of the immigrant experience and the conflict between civilization and wilderness. In “How Much of These Hills Is Gold”, two orphaned Chinese-American siblings, one of them transgender, set out on a stolen horse in search of their fortune and a burial site for their father.