Eighth Moon is told from the perspective of its female protagonist Sansan. It is essentially a first-person narration with some shifting in time sequence which helps to clarify the action. The book begins when Sansan is on the train leaving the Peking station to meet her real mother. She begins to reflect upon her old life and reveals that her "Mama" and "Papa" were not her "real" parents. She then goes on to let her thoughts roam back over her life in China during the seventeen years that she spent there.
The narrator's voice is an important part of this work. It was carefully created by Lord and has a unforgettable ring of authenticity. The book was constructed from over 250 pages of transcribed interviews that Lord had with Sansan's sister, and the narrator stands as a both an observer and participant. She shares her insight into her Chinese clan or family, her school, her development as a young woman, and her constant hunger and vitamin deficiency. One of the most poignant parts in the book is the time her clothing was so threadbare that she had to dye her underwear with blue ink so that no one would see it through the large holes in her pants. Then when her "real" mother sends her some used clothing from America, Sansan cannot wear it because she will be criticized for wearing something so fine because the government has begun the "campaign of the glorious patches" in order to praise those who patch their clothes.