A Map for the Missing by Belinda Huijuan Tang

TitleA Map for the Missing
AuthorBelinda Huijuan Tang
FinishedJanuary 30, 2023
My Rating★★★★

Yitian, a math professor in a California university gets a call from his mother that his estranged father is missing. Yitian returns to China to help find his father and re-enters an emotion-charged past.  Yitian was a scholar at heart and that put him at odds with his farmer father. Yitian’s brother, Yishou is a simple manlike their father; nevertheless, he surreptitiously  helped Yitian prepare for his studies to get to university. That help has ramifications that puts a permanent wedge between Yitian and his father. 

On his trip back to find his missing father, Yitian meets with his first girlfriend, Hanwen, who is in a position to help the stranger in the strange land. As a girl Hanwen was also a good student but was shipped from the city to the villages to help with the agricultural needs. Yitian and Hanwen studied together, leaned on one another, and supported on another.

The novel is told from both the present of 1993 and the past of the Great Leap Forward (from 1958 to 1962) and the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward (1966 to 1976). The revolutionary demands of mid-Century China meant everyone had to submit the the needs of the state and this novel lays bare many of the tribulations the citizens went through. 

“Their family had gone through too much hardship to take the Party’s claims to righteousness very seriously. Yitian had been raised on tales of how the Party had caused thousands of deaths in their villages during the Great Famine years. Not eve his father, serving in the country’s army, believed the boastful words.”

Page 170

With mechanical, financial, and scientific experts murdered or imprisoned, the revolutionary aims of the Party were doomed. China’s fate the the 1950s to 1970s was exacerbated by the reluctance to give bad news up the chain of command. Bad news wouldn’t be believed and and the bearer would be punished. As a result, crops, among other parts of society, failed miserably causing the deaths of millions. Yitian is allowed to take the state university entrance exam only after the Party realized the error of its ways when punishing experts. Belinda Huijaun Tang poignantly describes depth of day-to-day hardship ordinary citizens lived through. As he prepares for the test

“Yitian reached into his pocket and fingered the two pens to make sure the ink hadn’t frozen. The previous night, he’d slept with the inkwell pressed to his chest to keep it warm.”

Page 170

By the time of Yitian’s return in 1993 the worst of China’s problems were over, but many cultural barriers hampered his search and his relationship with Hanwen who has her own problems while supporting her husband who is struggling with the new ways of doing business.

This novel weaves history of the late 20th century China with the complexity of relationships and the attendant responsibilities. Yang explores the relationships between Yitian and his father, his mother, his brother, his old girlfriend, and his current wife. Hanwen has her own struggles helping her son, her husband, and her mother. There is a lot going on in this novel; it would be a good book club selection.

The sense of responsibility for what you did to others, both intentional an don’t, was what bound their world

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Additional Information

This novel has a 4.0 rating on Goodreads with  2,314 ratings. It is also an Amazon Editor’s Pick for Best Literature and Fiction.

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