October 05, 2011

Falling Leaves: The True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah

To preface, let me say that I have read "Chinese Cinderella" by the same author which is essentially the same book, just written for a younger audience. Another difference in the two is that "Chinese Cinderella" ends when Adeline (the author) goes off to college. "Falling Leaves" however, ends in the late 1990's when she has grown up and is a middle aged woman.

This is an autobiographical book and details teh life of Adeline Yen Mah, an unwanted Chinese daughter. The early part of the book describes her birth and subsequent death of her mother. The youngest of five when her father remarries, their family is soon joined by a bitter cruel stepmother they call Niang and eventually two more siblings.

Her early years are detailed as being more emotionally abused than ever physically abused although there are a couple instances where she is slapped or whipped. For the most part, while her basic needs are cared for, her emotional ones are not. Even those that try to provide for her emotional needs, her grandfather Ye-ye and her Aunt Baba, are prevented from doing so by Niang. While she excels in school to impress her father and subsequently attract his love, she is often ignored and left behind. They even went so far as to, during the course of her young life, enroll her in two different boarding schools/orphanages just to get rid of her. One of these was in a war-torn area that was unsafe at the time.

Her way out came as a winning of a writing contest which finally made her father see her potential. However, instead of supporting her dreams of becoming a writer, he sends her to medical school where eventually she specializes in anesthesia.

The second part of the book shows her progressing through medical school and then her relationships. It also shows her struggle to still gain approval from her father and Niang. It also shows the grown up rivalries of all the siblings. While she does find happiness, it is tarnished by these familial relationships.

I thought it was an excellent book. While many might not feel sadness at her plight as she was well cared for and supplied an education, I think it really delves into what it means to be human. Most people want acceptance and want to be loved. As it is said "Money can't buy happiness." Why then should we feel less for Adeline as she was unwanted even in her own family, regardless of how well they helped her survive?

She is able to express her emotions readily and in a way I think all would be able to understand. I enjoyed her writing style and found unique the difference Chinese characters and phrases she incorporated to express her meaning.

The book is also a good study on the culture and political movements at the time in China and the surrounding areas. All of the events had an impact on her family's life and probably contributed to the turmoil.

Overall I think this book is a very informative read and would recommend it to anyone.

Falling Leaves
Copyright 1997
274 pages

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