"Delicate" also means "difficult to handle; requiring great tact"--this could describe An-mei's mother's thoughts. As a nine-year-old who hadn't seen her mother in years, An-mei would not know how her mother had suffered. Because she was so young, she felt proud that her mother had shared these thoughts with her, but her mother did that only because she had no one else to confide in and because she didn't really expect An-mei to respond.
In the rickshaw on our way to the railway station, my mother murmured, “Poor An-mei, only you know. Only you know what I have suffered.” When she said this, I felt proud, that only I could see these delicate and rare thoughts.
characterized by care and perseverance in carrying out tasks
In the evening, when there was nothing to do, we talked about the servants: who was clever, who was diligent, who was loyal. We gossiped as we cooked small eggs and sweet potatoes on top of the houlu just to enjoy their smell. And at night, my mother would again tell me stories as I lay in her arms falling asleep.
She was looking behind at everyone with a simpering smile, as if they were there to honor her. And when she was hardly in the door, I heard one servant remark to another, “Fifth Wife is so young she did not bring any of her own servants, only a wet nurse.”
She was crying now, rambling like a crazy woman: “You can see now, a fourth wife is less than a fifth wife. An-mei, you must not forget. I was a first wife, yi tai, the wife of a scholar. Your mother was not always Fourth Wife, Sz Tai!"
And this misfortune led First Wife to begin a trek to Buddhist temples, to offer alms and tailored silk gowns in honor of Buddha’s image, to burn incense and pray to Buddha to lengthen her daughter’s leg.
"Potent" also means "having a strong physiological or chemical effect"--this fits the situation too because Second Wife used to eat raw opium to make herself sick enough to seem like she was dying so that she could get what she wanted. But after a while, she didn't bother with the opium and simply acted like she was dying.
Her acting was potent enough. Soon she had a better room in the house, her own private rickshaw, a house for her elderly parents, a sum for buying blessings at temples.
pass into or through, often by overcoming resistance
I will use this sharp pain to penetrate my daughter’s tough skin and cut her tiger spirit loose. She will fight me, because this is the nature of two tigers. But I will win and give her my spirit, because this is the way a mother loves her daughter.
your overall circumstances or condition in life (including everything that happens to you)
"Circumstances" also means "a person's financial situation"--Lindo Jong is a woman who named her second son "Vincent" because it sounds like "win cent" and could help them make more money, so this second definition would not be far from her mind as she says these words to her daughter.
I wanted everything for you to be better. I wanted you to have the best circumstances, the best character. I didn’t want you to regret anything.
The example sentence gives many clues that a fifteen-year-old Jing-mei did not want to be a replica of her mother: the adjective "mutant", the adverb "insidiously" (in a manner that's hidden but spreading in a harmful way), and the verb "embarrass". But a thirty-six-year-old Jing-mei is on a train to China, carrying her dead mother's dream of reuniting with her lost daughters.
And when she said this, I saw myself transforming like a werewolf, a mutant tag of DNA suddenly triggered, replicating itself insidiously into a syndrome, a cluster of telltale Chinese behaviors, all those things my mother did to embarrass me—haggling with store owners, pecking her mouth with a toothpick in public, being color-blind to the fact that lemon yellow and pale pink are not good combinations for winter clothes.
love unquestioningly and uncritically or to excess; venerate as an idol
They said they always revered her as their true mother. They kept a framed picture of her. They told her about their life, from the time my mother last saw them on the road leaving Kweilin to when they were finally found.
avoid and stay away from deliberately; stay clear of
And that, too, would have been like my mother, to bring mountains of gifts, food, and toys for children—all bought on sale—shunning thanks, saying the gifts were nothing, and later turning the labels over to show my sisters, “Calvin Klein, 100% wool.”