In the small southern town of Chin-kiang, two young girls from very different worlds collide and become inseparable companions. Willow is hardened by poverty and fearful for her future; Pearl is the daughter of a Christian missionary who desperately wishes she was Chinese too. Neither could have foreseen the transformation of the little American girl embarrassed by her blonde hair into the Nobel Prize-winning writer and one of China's modern heroines, Pearl S. Buck.
When the country erupts in civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists, Pearl and Willow are brutally reminded of their differences. Pearl's family is forced to flee the country and Willow is punished for her loyalty to her 'cultural imperialist' friend. And yet, in the face of everything that threatens to tear them apart, the paths of these two women remain intimately entwined.