Ruth is one protagonist of the novel; she recounts not only her present life and her mother’s current story, but also her mother’s and grandmother’s pasts. Ruth learns a great deal throughout the book, from believing in her mother to discovering her own strengths. Ruth is pushed around by others and tends to be a peacemaker. For instance, when her boyfriend’s ex-wife invites herself and her family to the Full Moon Festival (Chinese Thanksgiving) which Ruth is hosting, she is upset because it is a family get-together that she has painstakingly planned; however, she says nothing and merely orders more food to accommodate the new guests.
Ruth is a ghostwriter—or book doctor, as her boyfriend calls it—and she spends a good portion of her days revising other people’s work instead of working on her own book. She is frustrated with the job, which involves a great deal of research, phone calls, and mental challenges and often takes more of her time than she has to spare.
Ruth’s relationship with her boyfriend, Art, is strained from the start of the novel but becomes even more so when she decides to move out for a little while to take care of her aging mother. While she and LuLing have not had the closest of mother-daughter relationships, Ruth will do anything to help her mother. She tends to dismiss her mother’s statements as confused because of the onset of LuLing’s dementia, not realizing that LuLing’s words actually do make sense.
It is only when she hears the whole true story of LuLing’s past that Ruth recognizes her mother’s true strength and wisdom. The reader learns along with Ruth that knowing the past is important, that we must truly listen, and that we need to make our own strength in our lives.
LuLing is another protagonist of the book. She currently struggles with Alzheimer’s and is intent on repairing the damage to her relationship with Ruth. She is described at one point as “beaming at her [daughter] with motherly adoration.” She loves her daughter but is not always able to convey her thoughts. Because LuLing frequently complains, Ruth does not pay attention to her words, but LuLing desperately wants her daughter to know where she (LuLing) came from, the pain she suffered in her life that has brought her to this point, and how her past relates to Ruth.
LuLing's life has consisted of one sorrow after another, yet she has persevered with great strength and wit. For instance, when she was younger, she was cared for by a nurse, Precious Auntie, whom she loved. After the two had a serious argument, Precious Auntie killed herself, and LuLing discovered that her beloved nurse was really her biological mother, who was trying to protect her. LuLing had to find a way to live with herself, knowing that she said very hurtful things to her mother. Her life was largely shaped by this event. In the present, LuLing continues to endure the hardships in her life with strength and determination, ultimately becoming a role model for Ruth.
Precious Auntie is LuLing’s real mother but is unable to tell her daughter the truth during her lifetime. She is heartbroken when her bridegroom is killed, and in her grief, she tries to commit suicide by drinking hot resin; she succeeds only in maiming her face. She shows great strength and resilience in raising her daughter as her nursemaid, as the family wishes to conceal her real identity from LuLing. Precious Auntie loves LuLing more than anything, and in the end, she makes the ultimate sacrifice for her daughter, taking her own life in order to prevent LuLing from making the mistake of marrying into the Chang family.
Precious Auntie reveals the incredible love that a mother can have for a daughter—even when that daughter has hurt her—and exemplifies how far a mother will go to protect her child.
GaoLing is LuLing’s sister. The two grow up believing they have the same mother, until LuLing’s true mother, Precious Auntie, is revealed. That...
(The entire section is 1,359 words.)