Chang, a lawyer and first-generation Chinese-American, tells the story of her great-aunt's long, often hard, remarkable life. Chang Yu-i was born in 1900 to a large and affluent family. As she grows up traditional China is gradually becoming Westernized: Yu-i herself is the first girl in her family to escape foot-binding; she is always aware of how this gave her freedom. Married at 15 to a scholar (and later renowned poet Hsu Chih-mo), a mother at 18, Yu-i is a docile wife and daughter-in-law who obeys the customs of filial devotion dutifully. But her husband is uncaring, often absent, and she feels restless and uneducated. Their marriage continues to deteriorate even after she leaves their son in China and joins her husband in Cambridge, England. He disappears, and pregnant, lonely, and depressed, Yu-i moves to Berlin with a brother and studies to become a teacher. Her husband returns to ask for a divorce, and Yu-i reluctantly agrees, without her parents' permission, to what would be the first modern, ""no-fault"" divorce in China. She emerges from this experience a determined, strong young woman. After the tragic early death of her second son, Yu-i returns to China and combines her traditional background and Western knowledge to become a successful businesswoman and bank vice president. Believing strongly that ""love means taking responsibility, fulfilling a duty,"" she takes care of her in-laws and parents until their deaths. After a second marriage in Hong Kong, she ends her long life in New York City, resilient to the last. Around Yu-i's first-person story Chang writes of her own struggle to assimilate into suburban America and succeed as both a regular American girl and a dutiful Chinese daughter. However, these parts of the book pale beside Yu-i's fascinating life and her plainspoken wisdom.