The narrator-woman talks about her youth, held in Saigon. The main events date from 1932 to 1934.
A French girl of fifteen and a half years lives in the state boarding house in Saigon, and studies in the French lycée. Her mother wants her daughter to get secondary education and herds as a mathematics teacher at the Lyceum. The girl has two brothers, one is two years older – this is the “younger” brother, and the other, the “senior”, is three. Her younger brother, she herself, not knowing why, loves madly. The elder considers the calamity of the whole family, although the mother does not like him in the soul and loves, perhaps even more than the other two children. He steals money from relatives, servants, impudence, cruel. There is something sadistic about him: he rejoices when his mother strikes his sister, beats his younger brother with wild fury for whatever reason. The girl’s father is in Indochina, but gets sick early and dies. Mother carries all the hardships of life and upbringing of three children.
After the lyceum, the girl takes a ferry to Saigon, where her guesthouse is located. For her, this whole trip, especially when she travels by bus. She returns after a vacation from Shadek, where her mother is the director of the women’s school. Mother escorts her, entrusting bus driver’s cares. When the bus enters the ferry crossing one of the Mekong’s branches and the next from Shadek to Vinlong, she exits the bus, leans against the parapet. She wears a worn silk dress, belted with a leather belt, gold brocade shoes with high heels and a soft male felt hat with flat fields and a wide black ribbon. It is the hat that gives the whole image of the girl a clear ambiguity. She has long copper-red heavy curly hair, she’s fifteen and a half years old, but she’s already dyed. Toned cream, powder, dark cherry lipstick.
On the ferry next to the bus is a large black limousine. In a limousine, a driver in white livery and an elegant man, a Chinese, but dressed in a European way – in a light light suit that bankers wear in Saigon. He gazes at the girl as many people look at her. The Chinese comes to her, talks, offers to drive to the guesthouse on his limousine. The girl agrees. From now on, she will never again ride a local bus. She is no longer a child and understands something. She understands that she is ugly, although if she wants, she can seem so, she feels that it is not beauty or dresses that make a woman desirable. The woman either has a sexual attraction, or not. This is immediately evident.
In the car they talk about the mother of the girl with whom her companion is familiar. The girl loves her mother very much, but she does not understand much about her. Her adherence to rags, old dresses, shoes, her bouts of fatigue and despair is incomprehensible. Mother constantly tries to get out of poverty. Therefore, probably, she allows the girl to walk in the attire of a small prostitute. The girl already perfectly understands everything, knows how to use the attention paid to her. She knows – this will help to get money. When a girl wants money, her mother will not interfere with her.
Already in adulthood, the narrator talks about her childhood, about how all the children loved her mother, but also how they hated her. The history of their family is a story of love and hate, and it can not understand the truth in it, even from the height of its age.
Even before a man talks to a girl, she sees that he is scared, and from the first minute realizes that he is entirely in her power. She also understands that today is the time to do what she has to do. And neither her mother nor her brothers should know about this. The slammed door of the car cut her off from the family once... and for all.
One day, soon after their first meeting, he calls her to the boarding house, and they go to Solon, the Chinese capital of Indochina. They enter his bachelor apartment, and the girl feels that she was exactly where she should be. He confesses to her that he loves her, like a madman. She also responds that it would be better if he did not like her, and asks to behave with her just as he behaves with other women. She sees the pain that his words cause him.
His skin is deliciously delicate. And the body is thin, devoid of muscles, so fragile, as if suffering. He moans, sobs. Choking with his unbearable love. And she gives her a vast, incomparable sea of pleasure.
He asks why she came. She says: it was so necessary. They talk for the first time. She tells him about her family, that they have no money. She wants him along with his money. He wants to take her away, go somewhere together. She still can not leave her mother, otherwise she will die from grief. He promises to give her money. The evening comes. He says that the girl will remember this day for life, the memory will not fade away, and when she completely forgets it, even his face, even his name, will forget.
They go out into the street. The girl feels that she has aged. They go to one of the big Chinese restaurants, but no matter what they say, the conversation never comes to them. This continues for one and a half years of their daily meetings. His father, the richest Chinese in Sholon, would never agree that his son marry this little white prostitute from Jadek. He would never dare to go against the will of his father.
The girl introduces her lover to her family. Meetings always begin with luxurious luncheons, during which the brothers are terribly obzharayutsya, and the owner ignores, not uttering a single word in his address.
He takes her to a boarding house at night on a black limousine. Sometimes she does not come to sleep at all. This is reported to the mother. The mother is to the director of the boarding house and asks to give the girl freedom in the evenings. Soon the girl on the ring finger has a very expensive ring with a diamond, and the warders, although they are ripe that the girl is not engaged at all, completely stop making her comments.
One day a lover leaves for his sick father. He recovers and thereby deprives him of his last hope of ever marrying a white girl. Father prefers to see his son dead. The best way out – her departure, separation from her, in his heart of hearts, he realizes that she will never be true to anyone. Her face says this. Sooner or later they will still have to part.
Soon the girl and her family leave for France on a steamship. She stands and looks at him and his car on the beach. It hurts, I want to cry, but she can not show her family that she loves the Chinese.
Arriving in France, the mother buys a house and a forest plot. The elder brother is losing all that overnight. During the war, he steals his sister, as always robbed relatives, takes away her last meal and all the money. He dies on a gloomy, cloudy day. The younger brother died earlier, in 1942, from bronchopneumonia in Saigon, during the Japanese occupation.
The girl does not know when her lover, obeying the will of his father, married a Chinese girl. Years passed, the war ended, the girl gave birth to children, divorced, wrote books, and here many years later he comes with his wife to Paris and calls her. His voice trembles. He knows that she is writing books, this was told to her by her mother, whom he met in Saigon. And then he says the main thing: he still loves her, as before, and will love only her until her death.