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. As a teenager, Hanwen was “sent down” from Shanghai to Yitian’s village as part of the country’s rustication campaign. Young and in love, they dreamed of attending university in the city together. But when their plans resulted in a terrible tragedy, their paths diverged, and while Yitian ended up a professor in America, Hanwen was left behind, resigned to life as a midlevel bureaucrat’s wealthy housewife.
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