Immigrants from China on a ship in 1930s

Two Countries, Two Wives (NaNoWriMo Novel Synopsis)

A young man leaves his life in China to discover that love is found, not arranged.

Born in 1920s China, Fat-Ling grows up in a matriarchal household. Women make decisions. Men are absent, working in distant lands to generate income for the family. Love is practical — the kind where children dutifully support their family, especially the elders.

As a child, Fat-Ling secretly witnesses another kind of love — a forbidden relationship between a married male teacher and an unmarried female teacher. The kind of relationship that his mother would reject. The kind that would bring the family shame. But he learns that the world outside China is different. Businesses can be built overnight. New ideas are welcomed. A marriage can be discovered through love. But Fat-Ling is uncertain.

When Fat-Ling turns seventeen, his grandmother arranges a marriage to a village girl. Pui-Lan believes in tradition. Fat-Ling knows that the relationship is a marriage of convenience to guarantee that he will return to China.

After sailing across the Pacific Ocean, he arrives in Peru. Along with colleagues, he learns Spanish and is given the Spanish name Luis. Living in Peru, Luis slowly realizes that he is free from the bound traditions of his homeland.

World War II begins, disrupting communication to China. Everyone is dead, Luis believes, as he hears the news of bombings. In his company, a Peruvian woman, Maria, listens and lifts him from depression. Despite an inner conflict, he feels that he has found love.

The war ends, and like his colleagues, Luis wants to know what happened to his family in China. So he departs, promising Maria that he will return. In China, he finds his family alive. Soon, Luis feels restless. Feeling confined, he returns to the blissful world with Maria in Peru.

Alone again, Pui-Lan is resentful as she raises five young children.

By the 1970s, the Communist party rises to power in Peru. So Luis makes a plan for Maria and himself to move to the United States. Maria will meet him after he cashes out his assets in Hong Kong.

Forced to face bitter Pui-Lan, Luis realizes that he has lost. In front of him, she burns his Peruvian travel documents. “Not now, not later, never again,” she demands. “Don’t bring shame to your family.”

Ravaged with guilt, Luis follows her wishes. They emigrate to the United States to be with their adult children, and he is forbidden to speak to Maria. For the rest of Pui-Lan’s life, Luis is dutiful, caring for Pui-Lan as her health declines in old age.

What Luis doesn’t realize is that the best years of his life are ahead. Luis and Maria reunite to spend their final years growing old together.

This story, based on my grandfather’s life, is about the complexity of love, duty, and family.

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