Paradise of the Blind begins in the 1980s. Hang, a young Vietnamese woman receives a telegram telling her to visit her uncle in Moscow, who is very ill. Hang works in a textile factory in Russia, thousands of miles from Moscow. The account of her train journey to Moscow is then interspersed with her reminiscences of her childhood and adolescence in Vietnam and the earlier history of her family.
Que, Hang's mother, lives alone in a village after the death of her parents. After her tragedy, a community ritual is held where the citizens of the town offer her piesches, but she is confused by the thought of the Vietnamese delicacy and declines it. When she is twenty she marries Ton, a schoolteacher. They are happy together for nearly two years, until Que's brother Chinh returns, in about 1956. He has been fighting with the communists, who now run the country. Chinh forbids Que to speak to Ton because his family are landlords and are therefore enemies of the peasantry. They belong to what Chinh calls the exploiting class, who must be denounced and punished. Such denunciations are carried out in front of all the villagers. All the landowners are denounced, and their land is confiscated, which includes Que's sister-in-law Tam and her grandmother Nhieu. However, Hang's father escapes. Que is left alone; Chinh will not even let her talk to Tam. Distressed, Que disappears from the village for six months, during which Chinh also leaves.
Some years later, the land reforms are rescinded. The Special Section for the Rectification of Errors arrives in the village, and at public gatherings the villagers vent their grievances over the injustices they suffered. Que is a target for vengeance, because Chinh is her brother, but Tam protects her.
On the train ride to Moscow, Hang recalls a visit she made with a friend to Kiev and then returns to the family story. Her mother could no longer live in the village and leaves for Hanoi, where she lives in a working-class slum and makes a living as a street vendor. Ten years later, Hang is born. She grows up miserable and lonely, knowing nothing about her father, since her mother refuses to answer her questions.
When Hang is nine, Uncle Chinh returns. It is ten years since he and his sister have seen each other. Que invites her neighbors to meet him, and they are all impressed that he is responsible for ideological education in a northern province. Chinh reproaches Que for being a street vendor, since he thinks such people are members of the bourgeoisie who are enemies of the revolution. He says he will get her a job in a factory, even though she does not want one. The real reason for Chinh's visit is that he wants his share of the money from the sale of their parents' house. Que takes Hang to the village to get the money.
Finally, Hang's mother tells her the story of her father. Ton flees the village and finds shelter at the home of the parents of a former student of his. They ask him to leave quickly, however. Ton takes a three-day trip up the river in a sampan. Eventually he arrives in a Muong minority region, where he settles down and marries again, becoming the son-in-law of the village vice president. He teaches the village children, and his wife bears him two sons. After six years, a traveling salesman stops at the village, and it transpires that he knows Hang's mother. Ton visits her in Hanoi, and that is when Hang is conceived. Hang next recalls a visit she and her mother made to Aunt Tam, who has become rich. It is the first time Hang has met her aunt, and Tam tells the story of how she survived after she was evicted from her house. During the Rectification of Errors, her house was restored to her as well as her five acres of rice paddy fields. She tells of what happened to Ton. After visiting Que, he returned to the Muong village and his wife, but she refused him permission to visit Que again and to care for his child. Feeling shamed, Ton drowned himself in a river. Tam has not forgiven Chinh for his persecution of her brother. Back in the present, Hang recalls a quarrel with her roommates in Russia over a lost sewing machine, before returning to her childhood memories. She recalls how, as she and her mother are about to return to Hanoi, Aunt Tam showers her with love and gives her gold earrings. It is an unsuitable gift for a nine-year-old and it makes Hang feel uncomfortable. When they are back in Hanoi, Uncle Chinh visits and tells Que that he has found her a job as a clerk in the office of a factory. But she refuses to accept it. After Chinh leaves, Que is depressed but is comforted by her neighbor, Neighbor Vi. During Tet, the national holiday celebrating the Lunar New Year, Aunt Tam arrives, bringing huge provisions as a gift for Hang. She also gives Hang money. A year or so passes, and Que and Hang visit Uncle Chinh and his wife and two young sons. They believe Chinh has recently been very sick, but he denies it, although he is clearly undernourished. Que discovers a new purpose in life by sending gifts to her two young nephews, even though she is robbed of everything she has at her vendor's stall. At Tet, she takes more gifts for the boys, but Hang does not enjoy the visit and decides she will never visit her uncle again. Meanwhile, Aunt Tam showers gifts on Hang, who is now a teenager.
Hang remembers when Aunt Tam stayed at their house, looking after Hang as she studied for her college entrance exams. Because Aunt Tam is looking after Hang, Hang's mother becomes indifferent to her. Hang tries to win back her love, while Que seeks acceptance from Uncle Chinh's family. Hang goes to stay with her aunt for a week, where she enjoys the feasts that Aunt Tam prepares. At one banquet, almost the entire village is invited, including Duong, the village vice president, who is hated for his high-handed behavior. Aunt Tam criticizes him to his face about an incident in which a man was arrested without a warrant. She says the man's only crime was that he insulted Duong and the Party secretary. Aunt Tam then tells stories about wise and foolish leaders in Vietnamese history, which everyone enjoys except Duong. Embarrassed by Aunt Tam's taunting of him, he makes an early departure. Hang reveals that this is not her first trip to Moscow to see her uncle, who visits Moscow on government business. She saw him there a year ago and discovered that he makes money by trading on the black market.
Ten days after the banquet, Hang returns to live with her mother and also to attend the university. She is happy for a while, but then Chinh falls ill with diabetes. He needs American medicine, and Que makes sacrifices in order to provide it. As a result, she and Hang do not have enough to eat. Hang wants to sell one of the rings that Aunt Tam gave her, but her mother will not let her. Aunt Tam finds out about the situation and demands her gifts back. She refuses to allow her money to be used to help Chinh, whom she regards as a mortal enemy of her family. After this, Hang's relationship with her mother deteriorates, and during a quarrel her mother throws her out of the house. For a while Hang stays at a dormitory in her high school while she continues her college education, supported by Aunt Tam. But then her mother is hit by a car, and her leg is amputated. Hang visits her in the hospital and they are reconciled. Hang discontinues her studies and takes a job in Russia, so she can support her mother.
Back in the present, Hang arrives in Moscow. Uncle Chinh is no longer in the hospital but is staying at the apartment of Mr. Khoa, a Vietnamese graduate student. She finds Chinh alone in Khoa's room. It turns out that he works for Khoa and two other Vietnamese students, cooking and housekeeping for them. When the men return, they do not treat him well. When he is not there they speak mockingly about him, and the one Hang calls the Bohemian picks an argument with him over his practice of enforcing Communist Party orthodoxy. The next morning, the Bohemian gives Hang money to cover shipping expenses for Chinh's black market trading.
Hang returns to the Russian province where she lives in a dormitory for textile workers. She finds a telegram asking her to return home because Aunt Tam is dying. She returns to Moscow where the Bohemian helps her to get an exit visa and also buys her a plane ticket. She returns briefly to her mother's house before going to the village where Aunt Tam lives. Aunt Tam has managed to hang on to life, waiting for Hang to come. She gives Hang a key to a trunk that holds the jewelry she bought for her and map of the garden to show where Hang's inheritance is buried. After Aunt Tam dies, Hang arranges for three memorial ceremonies, but she decides to disobey her aunt's instructions to live in her house. She cannot live in the past and must strive to fulfill her own dreams.