This is the story of a simple village woman in an isolated part of China. As a child, Grape Wang loses her family flooding caused by Chiang Kai-shek's forces to oust the Japanese from their positions, and she is bought as a servant and future daughter-in-law by River Sun, a landlord and shopkeeper. The novel tells of the family's travails during the Sino-Japanese war and the various armies that pass through the area. Grape's young husband is shot, and she is widowed at age 14. Later, during the Communists' purge of the landlords, River Sun and the other landlords are shot, but River Sun manages to survive. Grape hides him in her root cellar and proceeds to protect and care for him for the next 30 years, through political campaigns, famines, and various man-made disasters.
A longer synopsis by the author may be found here.