This week, we talk to Belinda Huijuan Tang about her sweeping and tender debut novel, A Map for the Missing, which was recently longlisted for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel prize. Belinda talks about her writing and research process, the family stories that gave Belinda inspiration for the novel, and her focus on telling a Chinese story from a personal vantage point rather than a political one. (Also, a bit about 1970’s/80’s Chinese nostalgia.) This episode is hosted and edited by Megan Cattel.
“I think a lot of the ways that Chinese people are talked about are as these passive receptors of historical events, people that things happen to, rather than people who have agency in their own lives and who make decisions in their own lives… So, I wanted to write a book that was about characters living through momentous, historical times, but I didn’t want their entire personhoods to feel like they were defined by those times.”Belinda Huijuan Tang, NüVoices Podcast
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie, Ina Rilke (Translator)
China in Ten Words by Yu Hua, Allan H. Barr (Translator)
Some of Us: Chinese Women Growing Up in the Mao Era essay collection
Belinda’s esssay in Lit Hub on re-learning to read Chinese
Yu and Me bookstore in New York City’s Chinatown (order Belinda’s book from here if you can!)
Accented Cinema’s video essay on YouTube about the film Hello, Mom and Chinese nostalgia
A Map for the Missing’s book club kit
About A Map for the Missing: “Tang Yitian has been living in America for almost a decade when he receives an urgent phone call from his mother: his father has disappeared from the family’s rural village in China. Though they have been estranged for years, Yitian promises to come home.
When Yitian attempts to piece together what may have happened, he struggles to navigate China’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.
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 big cities, A Map for the Missing is a deeply felt examination of family and forgiveness, and the meaning of home.”
About Belinda: She is a writer from San Jose, California. Her debut novel, A Map for the Missing, was published by Penguin Press in August of 2022.
Most recently, she was a Truman Capote Fellow at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Before that, she lived in Beijing and studied at Peking University for two years. In college she thought she would be an economist.
Her writing has received the Michener Copernicus Award and a Bread Loaf Work-Study Scholarship. Currently, she lives in Los Angeles.
Recommendations & Self-care tips:
Belinda recommends knitting and going to the beach (or any quiet space in nature!)