A Map for the Missing: A Novel (Hardcover)
Tang Yitian has been living in America for almost a decade when he receives an urgent phone call from his mother: Yitian’s father has disappeared from the family’s rural village in China. He walked out of their courtyard two mornings ago, with only a plastic bag tied around his wrist, and no one has seen him since. Though Yitian has been estranged from his father for years, he tells his mother he will come home.
When Yitian returns to the village and attempts to piece together what may have happened, he struggles to navigate the country’s impenetrable bureaucracy as an outsider, and his mother’s evasiveness only deepens the mystery. So he seeks out a childhood friend who may be in a position to help: Tian Hanwen, the only other person who shared Yitian’s desire to pursue a life of knowledge. As a teenager, Hanwen was “sent down” from Shanghai to Yitian’s village as part of China’s rustication campaign. Young and in love, they dreamed of attending university in the city together and poured everything into studying for the newly reinstated college entrance exam. But when events spiraled into tragedy, their paths diverged, and while Yitian made it to Beijing, then to America, Hanwen was left behind, resigned to life as a midlevel bureaucrat’s wealthy housewife.
Reuniting for the first time as adults, Yitian and Hanwen embark on the search for Yitian’s father, all the while grappling with the past—who Yitian’s father really was, and what might have been. Spanning the late 1970s to 1990s and moving effortlessly between rural provinces and grand cities, A Map for the Missing is an epic, deeply felt examination of family and forgiveness, the cost of pursuing one’s dreams, and the meaning of home.
“A Map for the Missing gives vivid life to the uncanny truths of return, reunion, and time. A simple mystery—a father who has vanished—forcefully animates the story, but what casts a spell over readers and makes this novel so memorable is the attention, both loving and piercing, with which the author regards her characters. Belinda Huijuan Tang’s debut is vigorous and deft, intricate and precise.” —Jamel Brinkley, author of A Lucky Man, finalist for the National Book Award
“A stunning debut full of vivid writing, A Map for the Missing reminds you of exactly why we read in the first place. Through the expertly drawn and utterly original characters of Yitian and Hanwen, Belinda Huijuan Tang confronts how history, mobility, memory, and desire all intertwine in our perpetual search for peace. From the campus of an elite American university to the countryside of Cultural Revolutionary China, Tang confidently and artfully paints a complex and vast world that is both ethereal and familiar, characters concurrently exacting and reckless. The result is a novel that explores the bittersweetness of returns and the ultimate healing behind coming home.” —Xochitl Gonzalez, author of Olga Dies Dreaming
“With lean, musical prose, Belinda Huijuan Tang has written a stunning debut about family, belonging and love. I will be thinking about these characters for a long time.” —De’Shawn Charles Winslow, author of In West Mills