Cover Image: A Map for the Missing

A Map for the Missing

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1993; Tang Yitian was born in China, but for the past years he has been living in the United States with his wife Mali, and where he works as a math professor at a university.
One day he receives a stressfull call from his mother, who still lives in the rural village in the Anhui province of, China, that his elderly father has gone missing. Yitian travels to China in a search for his missing father. When he arrives there in the rural village he grew up in, he tries to figure out with his mother what could have happened and where he can search for him. He seeks help from an old friend; Tian Hanwen, who he knew in his young adult years as they where planning to study together in the city and escape the rural village. But life turned out differently for both of them, and Yitian finds out it is difficult to search for his missing father when he walks into walls of bureacracy.

But together they walk the path his father walked in his past and present, which in the story leaps in time from the late 1970s Cultural Revolution to the 1990's and during different times in China's moving history and set in rural villages and bustling cities as Shanghai.

The story is beautifully written, and from the first page on, altough it starts in the USA, you are to embark on a (time)travel to China as a reader. The chapters alternates between the present and past time, which at some points, I found a little confusing, altough luckily not too much. During the chapters that are set in the past, which take up most of the book, the love story of Yitian and Hanwen plays a big part, and the missing of Yitian's father becomes more of a side story that you remember all of a sudden in the last parts of the book. I must say though that i found the ending a bit loose and odd, this could have been a better wrap up and it left me with a big question mark.

Overall I found it a beautiful and good story, but with some loose points here and there
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I was unable to finish this book. I’m estranged from my father and my stepfather recently died. I tried reading this ARC and I tried listening to the audiobook. It was just the wrong book for me at this time. Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Press for the ARC.
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A novel that wrestles with personal schisms, estranged families, and "the one who got away" during the turbulent 1970s and 1980s in China. A little predictable, but the last page was devastating.
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4.5 stars

Belinda Huijuan Tang’s debut novel A Map for the Missing is a moving story about family, forgiveness, identity, loss, and the weight of cultural expectations versus personal ambition.  

When we first meet Tang Yitian in 1993, he is a mathematics professor at an American university in California, where he has lived with his wife Mali for nearly a decade.  One day, he receives a phone call from his mother, who still lives in their ancestral family village in China, informing him that his father has mysteriously disappeared. Yitian is estranged from his father and as a result, he has not set foot in the village in 15 years — yet Yitian agrees to return to his child home home to help look for him.  When he arrives in China however, he feels like a fish out of water and has no choice but to seek out the help of his childhood friend (and his first love), Tian Hanwen, who is now a housewife to a mid-level bureaucrat. Together, they begin the search for Yitian’s father, but along the way, they end up discovering truths about themselves and their families that change long-held perspectives about their lives.  Through a narrative that switches back and forth between the 1970s and 1990s, we eventually learn the characters’ backstories and the link between their pasts that impact their lives in present day.

It’s been awhile since I’ve come across a book that resonated with me on so many levels. Throughout the story, both Yitian and Hanwen struggle between pursuing their dreams and forging their own path in life versus following cultural expectations of filial piety that require them to fulfill their obligations to their families. This is a struggle that I’m intimately familiar with, which is why reading this book was quite an emotional experience for me.  Reading about Yitian’s feelings of inadequacy in not being able to reconcile his ambitions and the trajectory of his life with his responsibilities toward his parents (regardless of how they treated him), I found myself nodding along in understanding and sympathy.  I was also able to relate to his experience returning to his hometown after so many years away, and the unexpected culture shock that made it difficult for him to navigate a world that used to be familiar to him.  This was actually one area that I felt the author did an especially great job with:  conveying the unending struggle that immigrants like us have with reconciling the meaning of “home” and feeling like a “perpetual foreigner” in both worlds.  

There’s actually quite a bit to unpack with this novel — the themes of loss and forgiveness, reconciling past and present lives with future, social mores versus personal values, the price of ambition and trying to forge a better life for oneself versus the obligations of family and cultural inheritance — it’s impossible to cover all aspects in such a short review.  With that said, I appreciate Tang’s realistic yet deeply nuanced portrayal that quite honestly continues to give me much food for thought even now, several days after having finished the book.  

This was an absolutely worthwhile read — one I definitely recommend.  Of course, given the cultural elements, the experience reading this will probably be different for each person, but with the variety of themes it covers, I don’t think it will be difficult to find something relatable in the story.

Received ARC from Penguin Press via NetGalley.
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I don’t think I am the right person to perfectly articulate how interesting this book was. There’s so much heart into it and I can easily say that this could be easily vouched by anyone remotely drawn to this type of premise. 

Not like anything I have read.
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A Map for the Missing explores the complex relationship of a father and son. Yitian,  the son is called back to China when his father goes missing. We revisit Yitian’s childhood in China, his estrangement from his father, college and immigration to the United States. A beautiful and intriguing novel.

** I received an electronic ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review of this book.
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This novel is about loss, many different kinds of loss through death or ill luck, through forces of politics and history beyond our own or anyone's individual control. It is about loss as a natural outcome of growth and change. It is about loss and its inscrutable, unshakeable companion, grief. It is also about the successors to loss: acceptance, perspective, renewal. 

The story begins with a mystery and an immediate confrontation with loss. Yitian, a middle aged Chinese professor of mathematics who lives and works in the United States, finds himself on the calm end of a frantic phone call with his mother who announces that his father has gone missing. The remainder of the novel revolves around this event. This is the first loss, an obvious one. 

But as the story unfolds and Yitian returns to China to solve this mystery, help his mother, and locate his father, it becomes clear this is only the last of many that have come before. The novel moves fluidly from the present into the deep past, into Yitian's childhood, teenage years, and early adulthood. 

We encounter the loss of worlds that no longer exist: China pre-1949, before Mao and the Cultural Revolution stripped Chinese culture down to a party line; China in the throes of the Cultural Revolution when young men and women were "sent down" youths, cast out of towns and cities and abandoned in the countryside, their personal desires and ambitions beaten out of them; China of the 1980s in its easing up of strict communist restrictions on lifestyle and living. 

As Tang Yitian re-engages with China and the people of his past, the reader experiences with him the loss of his past. In that past is death of different kinds. There is literal death, but also metaphorical death -- of love, romance, family cohesion. We encounter loss and grief as disappointment. So often disappointment is overlooked as a form of loss, but Tang's A Map for the Missing makes a profound case for it here. The repeated disappointments that life deals us are obstacles in our path, they are barriers that prevent us from manifesting into reality the image of ourselves we see in our heads. Yitian's wife experiences this. So does Hanwen. So too do the elder Tang men. 

We also see the tale unravel from the point of view of those in Yitian's past, specifically Hanwen, a young woman, one of the "sent down" youths. In some ways, A Map for the Missing is a tale of these two characters and how their encounter, brief and powerful, shaped their lives. 

This is a novel of how loss shapes our lives. And because of that, the novel is less bleak than it might seem at the outset. There is a hopefulness embedded in it. Perhaps this is hinted at in the promise of its title. A map leads to a destination, doesn't it? It rescues the lost. It is simply a matter of reading the map, learning the topography and the legend and its scale. Yitian's journey lasts only a few weeks in real time, but it is really a deep delve into his past of several decades; it is on this journey into the past that he learns how to read the map. 

A Map for the Missing takes us with Yitian and the other characters on their trips through memory. Belinda Huijuan Tang's prose is a delicate vehicle for the reader's ride. The reader will barely feel the movement as they are shuttled through the novel from one moment to another, from one story to another, the past, the present, back again. Her prose flows. The chapters flow. Tang's description of place, perhaps foreign to some readers, fits the mood of the novel; it is sparse in parts, but succinct, delivering an image for the reader's mind in a sweep of few words. The characters too are real, even if their histories and cultures might differ from the average English-reading audience; they are easily recognizable across cultures. The men and women of Tang's novel are grounded in a specifically Chinese history and culture, but they are also relatable as mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, teenagers, young adults, wives, and husbands. 

The reader will travel with these characters, witnessing Chinese history and their lives silently. At the end of this book, the reader cannot help but feel like they've gone somewhere familiar and alien. All of us know this story, we know this journey; it may be one we've taken before or one that we know we should take ourselves -- or one we might be forced to undertake, like some of the characters here. You, Reader, will feel exhausted, but you'll also feel... hopeful. 

A Map for the Missing is a wandering worth the taking. for both the destination and the experiences along the way.
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A Map for the Missing is a question and an answer. Going home to where your blood is, beseeches questions on what you left behind and filling your responsibilities. Yitian had then sets his foot back to his rural village in China and inform her mother that his father has gone missing. From then, he reconnects with his first love, Hanwen, as they were separated back then for their choices. A lot have been made, a lot have been done, voices in the past lingers in him. He, at that moment, discovers that the word missing didn’t just imply what’s lost but what’s there. 

There are a lot of happenings, struggles, perspectives but everything went beyond my expectations. These compelling tinge sensations that I had felt when I read A Map for the Missing felt spotless and absorbing. This book had this unexplainable comfort and somehow, a nostalgia. I can’t comprehend this feeling but Tang’s writing style paves a way in my head that this book will definitely haunt me. It was beautiful, painful and yet somehow a glimpse of future, time, culture, home and life.
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An epic tale of finding family and yourself,  Moving between the 1970s and 1993, it's the story of Yitian, who, by virtue of passing a critical exam. has left China for the US where he is a professor.  Now, though, he's been called back because his father has gone missing.  His childhood friend Hanwen, who was sent to his village as part of the rustication campaign, might be the only person who can help hIm.  The search forces Yitian to confront the realities of China, as well as his own life.  It helps to have a familiarity with events in China during this period and it might read a tad slowly in spots but I found myself wrapped in.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  A good read.
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This is a wonderful novel about family, forgiveness, loss, mental health, and much more! We get to see the initial misunderstandings and differences in the family, as well as the events that led to Yitian's eventual estrangement from his father. The chapters to switch between the past and the present. I know some people aren't crazy about it but it really brings everything together! A great read!
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When he gets the call that his father is missing, Yitian hasn’t been back to his home village in Anhui, China for more than a decade. I don’t he’d be able to explain why he leaves his wife and his job at an unnamed American university to get on a plane and go help find the man. Over the course of A Map for the Missing, by Belinda Huijuan Tang, we learn what would compel Yitian to travel back to the place that holds his worst memories. We also learn about the forces and chances that can derail us from our chosen paths in life.

Years before he became an assistant professor at an American university, Yitian was the son of poor, rural farmers. He’s not a strong worker and, instead of going to the fields, Yitian would rather listen to his grandfather’s stories about the history of China. His hard-bitten father loathes Yitian for his preferences. And Yitian’s life might have gone on like that—hard labor, abusive home life, no future—if it weren’t for the announcement that the gaokao would finally be held again. These national college entrance exams had been suspended since the Cultural Revolution. If Yitian can score well enough on the gaokao, he can go to university and escape the Tang Family Villages. And if his friend, Hanwen, a sent-down teenager from Shanghai, can score well enough, perhaps she can leave the villages, too, and return to her mother.

A Map for the Missing bounced back and forth between 1993—when Yitian returns to China to help look for his father—and the late 1970s and early 1980s—when Yitian is still a teenager dreaming of becoming a scholar. As the narrative shifts in time, we see that life is never a straight line. Yitian has pinballed through his entire life, responding to the actions of others and being bounced off of his previous trajectory. For example, he ended up in America because the head of his department at university in Beijing recommended him. He married his wife because she initiated contact. He passed the gaokao because Hanwen badgered him into studying. Yitian hardly has to make choices at all. And, if you look closely, you can see how other characters similarly pinball through their lives in response to someone else pushing them off course.

A missing father is just a catalyst in A Map for the Missing. The real story, I think, is about the loneliness people can feel when they believe that no one else really understands them. No one in this story shares their stories with each other. When a character learns about another’s past—and, hence, why they are the way they are—it’s a revelation. My impression of most of the characters in A Map for the Missing is that they are all presenting one version of themselves to the world while keeping their thoughts and emotions private. None of them can make themselves vulnerable enough to talk about the things that really matter. And so, as they all ricochet around each other, opportunities for happiness and love and understanding appear and vanish and reappear. This is an emotionally complex novel. I’d recommend it to readers who like deep psychological portraits in interesting settings.
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A man who left his poor Chinese village as a young man to seek an education must return when his father goes missing.
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DNF at 30%. 

A Map for the Missing follows one man's journey to find his father. On the way, he learns more about the secrets of his family and his home country. 

I was really excited to read this, as I was hopeful that it would be a really riveting read. Unfortunately, I think the fact is it just isn't for me. I didn't really feel invested (or even interested) in the characters, and eventually I stopped reading it because I realized I didn't really care what happened in the end. This isn't a glaring fault of the author - it's clear that Tang is a good writer. The prose is quiet, though, and I felt like I couldn't really get a grasp on the voice or the characters as a result. 

Thank you to Penguin Press and NetGalley for providing a copy for review.
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Good writing of an emotional tale. This was engaging and included well crafted characters. I don't know if this will find a large audience but it should. Recommended.

I really appreciate the free ARC for review!!
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Tang Yitian lives in America with his wife, but he struggles to fit in. When his mother calls from China to tell him that his father has disappeared, Tang travels back to help, and we begin to unravel his family’s complicated history. Belinda Huijuan Tang’s novel A Map For the Missing explores difficult large topics of Chinese history through the intimate stories of a family. Her excellent writing weaves complicated themes of forgiveness, grief, and immigration with the political examination of Chinese politics. A Map For the Missing is an excellent choice for readers who enjoy literary fiction and authors like Min Jin Lee and Lisa See.
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A touching and compelling story about love and loss.  The characters and setting were wonderfully drawn and as a reader I felt heartbreak but also hope.
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I have to confess that I did not finish this book, I just don’t think it was for me, having said that I will buy it for our library as I know other people will enjoy it.
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In "A Map for the Missing", mathematics professor Yitian Tang receives an unexpected call from this mother in 1993; his father has mysteriously disappeared from their home in a rural village in Anhui, China. Even though Yitian has not spoken to his father in years, he agrees to return home to help. What follows is a story that traverses the present and Yitian's past, as we learn how he made his way as a farmer in China to his eventual position at an American university, and his eventual return to his homeland.

There is a lot of historical context needed to fully understand the weight of events in the 1970s, when Yitian is a teenager and China is moving past the death of Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution. Deng Xiaoping has taken leadership of the country, instituting his Boluan Fanzheng - policies that brought China closer to the modern world. Even though Yitian has grown up a commoner, a "countryboy", he dreams of taking the gaokao (高考), China's newly reinstituted national college entrance exam, a grueling, multi-day test that millions of other hopeful students will take in hopes of being accepted into one of the few slots. Yitian's father, however, is far from supportive and only praises his eldest son, Yishou, for his hard work in the fields. Nonetheless, Yitian is able to find solace and support in Hanwen, a girl from Shanghai who has been "sent down" to the village from Mao's earlier policies, and they both dream of what passing the gaokao can mean for them.

These events slowly bring us to the present, when Yitian returns to his hometown and is reunited with his mother and Hanwen. On the ongoing search for his father, we get to see the implications of Yitian's departure for America - how he's regarded by his neighbors and others in power, the assumptions made about him, and how his relationship with Hanwen has changed. It also paints an accurate picture of the country in the 1990s, with the pains of rapid growth and modernization, and the amount of corruption and bribery underlying these changes.

What I loved most about this novel, however, was how carefully and cohesively Belinda Huijian Tang is able to piece together a singular family in China, and the events that happened that led to their eventual falling out. The setting is firmly rooted in the events of the time, calling out the political and financial upheavals, the societal segregation, and struggles so many underwent. We get to see, piece by piece, the initial misunderstandings and differences in the Tang family, as well as the heartbreaking events that led to Yitian's eventual estrangement from his father. Yitian's efforts to pursue academics and move to America are representative of so many immigrant stories, and the ongoing racial inequity he faces in a new country hit home as well. 

A word of caution: I have a hard time being completely objective about "A Map for the Missing" since there are so many elements in the novel that overlap with my own parents' stories and even my own, but it is nonetheless one of the best novels I've read this year that I devoured in less than a day.
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Yitian has made it: an assistant professor of mathematics in the US now, once a country boy back in China. It’s 1993, he and his wife are trying to have a child, they have a life in America. And then - his mother calls. His father, a father he hasn’t spoken to in 15 years, is missing. Yitian drops everything and goes home to look for his father, where he is reminded of the reasons he left: his ambition to learn, the deaths of his grandfather and his brother Yishou, the longing for more, and the separation from his first love, Hanwen. 

Through alternating timelines - Yitian’s childhood, and his present in the village - Wang tells a story of love and forgiveness, even when words fail. This was really beautiful, slowly building emotion as the story unfolded, sharing the frustration of going home again, and the complexity of familial relations. One of the final chapters was so beautiful, I had to cry.
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I was lucky enough to win an advance copy of A MAP FOR THE MISSING by Belinda Huijuan Tang through a Shelf Awareness giveaway. Thanks for the early look, and have a safe and happy weekend!
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