Ling Tan, the patriarch of a family that includes five children, three boys and two girls. His story begins as that of a simple farmer who is happy to have his family well provided for through their collective labor. He has a few cattle, pigs, and chickens. Two of his three sons are married, as is his eldest daughter. As the Japanese invade China, his life becomes harsh. The novel is told through his and other peasants’ eyes. He becomes clever at hiding food from the Japanese, protecting his children and his neighbors from the invaders and launching attacks against them. His affection and respect for his wife are depicted as genuine. They each know their duties and responsibilities, and they make good decisions for their children and extended families.
Ling Sao, Ling Tan’s wife, a benevolent woman not overly critical of her sons and their wives or of her own daughters. She and her husband work together and discuss important decisions. She sees her place as ensuring the biological continuation of the family, finding good wives and trying to provide for grandchildren.
Lao Ta, the oldest son, who is married and has one child as the novel opens. During the occupation, his wife gives birth to another child. He is largely content with his life on the family farm, but with the occupation, his wife is in danger. His wife and children die of disease, and he becomes a wild fighter.
Lao Er, the second son, more dynamic than his brother. He loves his wife deeply and passionately, and he tries to please her. He is also faithful to his parents. He takes her north, away from the invasion, but returns to his parents with his family after Lao Ta’s children die. They stay to wage war on the Japanese with his father and brother. His dedication to the resistance and his care of his wife and pride in her...
(The entire section is 789 words.)