Since the death of Jimmy Louie, the father of Pearl Louie Brandt, Pearl and her mother, Winnie Louis, have had a difficult relationship, and Pearl has not told her mother about her struggle with multiple sclerosis. Winnie’s friend Helen Kwong tells Pearl that she knows about her multiple sclerosis and threatens to reveal it to Winnie if Pearl does not disclose it herself by the Chinese New Year.
Helen’s aunt, Grand Auntie Du, soon dies, leaving Pearl an altar to the Kitchen God. Because Pearl has never heard of the Kitchen God, Winnie tells her his story. She explains that the Kitchen God was once a rich man with a hard-working wife. However, he had abandoned his wife and wasted all the money. Finally reduced to a beggar, the man received charity from a kind woman, only to learn she was his wronged wife. Embarrassed, he jumped into a fire and burned to death. As a reward for admitting that he had been wrong, the Jade Emperor asked him to spy on families and report whether they deserve good luck or bad. Winnie expresses distaste for the Kitchen God and removes him from the altar, promising she will replace him with a more appropriate god.
A few days later, Helen gives Winnie some news: Winnie’s first husband, Wen Fu, has died. Seeing this as an opportunity to tell the truth about the past, Helen gives Winnie the same ultimatum she had given to Pearl, telling her to share her secrets with her daughter. Winnie initially resists, but after some thought she invites Pearl to her house and tells her life story.
In 1925, Winnie is a young Chinese girl named Jiang Weili. After her mother runs away, Weili’s wealthy father sends her away to live with her uncle and aunts. Several years later, at a public play, Weili and her cousin Peanut meet a confident, charismatic man named Wen Fu, who arranges a marriage with Weili. Weili’s father bestows upon her a dowry of money and furniture that will belong to her alone; it also will be the only money she receives for the rest of her life.
Wen Fu is a pilot in the air force, so he and Weili must move to Hangzhou so that he can fight the invading Japanese. Wen Fu begins to abuse Weili, raping and humiliating her every night. Weili also meets and becomes friends with Hulan (Helen), who is married to Long Jiaguo, a vice captain. As World War II begins, the pilots...
(The entire section is 960 words.)