n the small southern town of Chin-kiang, in the last days of the nineteenth century, two young girls bump heads and become thick as thieves. Willow is the only child of a destitute family. Pearl is the headstrong daughter of zealous Christian missionaries. She will grow up to become Pearl S. Buck, the Nobel Prize-winning writer and activist, but for now she is just a girl embarrassed by her blonde hair and enchanted by her new Chinese friend.
Moving out into the world together, the two enter the intellectual fray of the times, confide their hopes and dreams, and survive early marriages gone bad. But when civil war erupts between the Nationalists and Communists, Pearl’s family is forced to flee the country ahead of angry mobs. Willow, despite close ties to Mao’s inner circle, is punished for her loyalty to her ‘cultural imperialist’ friend. And yet, through love and loss, heartbreak and joy, exile and imprisonment, the two women remain intimately entwined.