The mood which is conveyed by flashbacks is one of nostalgia.
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The novel is divided into fours. The book comprises four sections, each of which comprises four chapters. This arrangement represents the four seats at the Mah Jong table. Each chapter in a section is devoted to one mother or daughter, and their stories eventually intertwine to the point that the story of Jing-mei and becomes a symbol of fulfillment for all of them. The mothers approach their daughters as they do the game of Mah Jong; they know the best strategy is to make any and all moves secretly so that the revelation comes at the last minute. In this way, the mothers shape their unknowing daughters, imparting precious wisdom while seeming blunt and at times even ignorant. At the same time, the daughters are aware of their mothers' cleverness, which they alternately fear, love, resent, and imitate.
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In the fourth section, "Queen Mother of the Western Skies," the mothers tell current stories about their daughters, and Jing-mei finally visits China. An-mei wants Rose to stand up for herself in her relationship with Ted just as An-mei stood up to First Wife after her own mother's suicide. In the same vein, Ying-ying wants Lena to fulfill her legacy by standing up to Harold, because she let her own spirit fade away when she got married. At the hair salon, Lindo acknowledges that Waverly is ashamed of her, but when they look in the mirror, neither can deny how much they are alike. The novel ends with Jing-mei and her sisters in China, all marveling at how they look like Suyuan.
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Lena's husband is named . They work at Livotny & Associates, the restaurant design firm he started. They met when they both worked at Harned Kelley & Davis, before Lena encouraged Harold to start his own firm. Now that their marriage is falling apart, Lena finds it hard to remember why she fell in love with Harold. She feels better after talking with , who is already divorced from . Rose tells Lena that she does not need to worry that the breakup of her marriage is her fault. Both women have worried in the past that their headstrong ways, of which their mothers disapprove, may have contributed. Rose assures Lena that fears of inadequacy are common in her generation, and the breakup is her not fault.