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Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter

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Born in 1937 in a port city a thousand miles north of Shanghai, Adeline Yen Mah was the youngest child of an affluent Chinese family who enjoyed rare privileges during a time of political and cultural upheaval. But wealth and position could not shield Adeline from a childhood of appalling emotional abuse at the hands of a cruel and manipulative Eurasian stepmother. Determi Born in 1937 in a port city a thousand miles north of Shanghai, Adeline Yen Mah was the youngest child of an affluent Chinese family who enjoyed rare privileges during a time of political and cultural upheaval. But wealth and position could not shield Adeline from a childhood of appalling emotional abuse at the hands of a cruel and manipulative Eurasian stepmother. Determined to survive through her enduring faith in family unity, Adeline struggled for independence as she moved from Hong Kong to England and eventually to the United States to become a physician and writer. A compelling, painful, and ultimately triumphant story of a girl's journey into adulthood, Adeline's story is a testament to the most basic of human needs: acceptance, love, and understanding. With a powerful voice that speaks of the harsh realities of growing up female in a family and society that kept girls in emotional chains, Falling Leaves is a work of heartfelt intimacy and a rare authentic portrait of twentieth-century China.


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Born in 1937 in a port city a thousand miles north of Shanghai, Adeline Yen Mah was the youngest child of an affluent Chinese family who enjoyed rare privileges during a time of political and cultural upheaval. But wealth and position could not shield Adeline from a childhood of appalling emotional abuse at the hands of a cruel and manipulative Eurasian stepmother. Determi Born in 1937 in a port city a thousand miles north of Shanghai, Adeline Yen Mah was the youngest child of an affluent Chinese family who enjoyed rare privileges during a time of political and cultural upheaval. But wealth and position could not shield Adeline from a childhood of appalling emotional abuse at the hands of a cruel and manipulative Eurasian stepmother. Determined to survive through her enduring faith in family unity, Adeline struggled for independence as she moved from Hong Kong to England and eventually to the United States to become a physician and writer. A compelling, painful, and ultimately triumphant story of a girl's journey into adulthood, Adeline's story is a testament to the most basic of human needs: acceptance, love, and understanding. With a powerful voice that speaks of the harsh realities of growing up female in a family and society that kept girls in emotional chains, Falling Leaves is a work of heartfelt intimacy and a rare authentic portrait of twentieth-century China.

30 review for Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter

  1. 4 out of 5

    Chelsea

    I half liked this book. I didn't like how Adeline made herself out to be this perfect little angel who gave to everyone and just kept getting shit on. She was constantly a victim to everyone in her family, yet kept going back for more abuse. The things that happened to her as a child were sad and horrible, but I don't understand why you would ever purposely keep going back to a family who despised you as an adult when she wasn't dependent upon them. I also found it strange that she longed for a I half liked this book. I didn't like how Adeline made herself out to be this perfect little angel who gave to everyone and just kept getting shit on. She was constantly a victim to everyone in her family, yet kept going back for more abuse. The things that happened to her as a child were sad and horrible, but I don't understand why you would ever purposely keep going back to a family who despised you as an adult when she wasn't dependent upon them. I also found it strange that she longed for a deep meaningful relationship with the family she was born into, yet she rarely talked about her kids and the family dynamic she created with Bob. She talked about how good Bob was to her for about one page, but then just complained about the family she was born into. I felt like she did a lot of complaining in the book, and was quite the martyr. I do think it is amazing that she was able to become a doctor and build a successful practice. I think she overcame many obsticles and I look up to her in that reguard. It's pretty impressive what she was able to accomplish as a minority female in the 50's and 60's. I wonder if she realized what a strong woman she was at that time?

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bookshop

    The book was published in the height of the Chinese-mania in America. It was the time when the likes of Joy Luck Club and Wild Swan were bestsellers. I thought it was another 'me-too' and never got to read it until now. This is the summary of what I think: The good: - her style of peppering the story with chinese proverbs (characters, pronunciation, translation); - interesting peek of Shanghai in its glory straight from the person who lived that kind of life; and - engaging story-telling. The bad: - a The book was published in the height of the Chinese-mania in America. It was the time when the likes of Joy Luck Club and Wild Swan were bestsellers. I thought it was another 'me-too' and never got to read it until now. This is the summary of what I think: The good: - her style of peppering the story with chinese proverbs (characters, pronunciation, translation); - interesting peek of Shanghai in its glory straight from the person who lived that kind of life; and - engaging story-telling. The bad: - a tad too whiny and self-pitying. She presents the typical David vs. Goliath battle. - a tad too shallow and tedious. Miseries are repeated over and over again with little lesson learned. - a tad too simplistic and biased. She and everyone else on her side are angelic. The rest are evil. To me, there was only ONE entertaining moment in this book. Her eldest brother and apparent heir, Gregory, wrote a 6-pages letter to their father asking his permission to become a bridge player. He promptly send a telegram containing this very simple advice: "why don't you become a pimp instead?". I don't agree with the practice of mapping out a child's life and, to certain cultures, this may even provoke anger but, knowing the Chinese background, this is hilarious. It is so typical of Chinese parents to disapprove such flamboyant career and the way the father put a stop to it is also so typical of the Chinese. I just have to laugh. Despite her repeated denial (not only here but also in her other book, A Thousand Pieces of Gold), I can't help but feeling that this particular book is her little revenge. I also doubt that she sincerely not sore for not getting the huge inheritance. I mean, she mentions it so many times in her book on the excuse that inheritance is her only way of knowing for sure that her parents approve of her but we don't see her youngest sister Susan, who was disowned for bravely walking out the door in rebellion against her (birth) mother's abuse, whining about exclusion from the inheritance. No wonder her brother James doesn't speak to her anymore. By writing this book, she, again, defies her father who said: 家醜不可外揚 (Family ugliness should never be aired in public). Instead of thinking how brave she was, I get a feeling that she was a spoiled little girl. She described how she refused to eat fatty meat at all cost (when fatty meat was considered as a source of nourishment for children at that time) and to learn the value of money by asking for the tram fare. Conclusion: fun read but her other books, A Thousand Pieces of God is a better and more original memoir and book. However, if you can't stand another whine from another Cinderella, skip it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Edgarr Alien Pooh (screw you 2020)

    Falling Leaves is an extremely well-written Autobiography by Adeline Yen Mah. By far one of the best I have read recently BUT before you rush out and add it to your TBR, please be warned, it is as depressing as hell. Adeline recounts her life from her birth in 1937, she was born in Tianjin, China. A quick mathematical calculation, and yes, that made her four years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and made WWII a real-world war. The Japanese flooded into China soon after and remained unt Falling Leaves is an extremely well-written Autobiography by Adeline Yen Mah. By far one of the best I have read recently BUT before you rush out and add it to your TBR, please be warned, it is as depressing as hell. Adeline recounts her life from her birth in 1937, she was born in Tianjin, China. A quick mathematical calculation, and yes, that made her four years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and made WWII a real-world war. The Japanese flooded into China soon after and remained until they surrendered after the bombings in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The withdrawal of Japanese troops only opened up China to oppressing civil wars between the Governing body and the Communists until eventually, the Communists won out and so began the reign of Communist China. Adeline is the youngest of five children, three boys and two girls to her father and mother, his first wife. Taking on the family business with his own father meant that the family became quite successful, somewhat wealthy and owning several properties. Neither the Japanese military nor the Communist Chinese powers liked the fact that he had such wealth at he was forced to flee. After Adeline's Mother died her Father met and married a younger woman with whom he became besotted and she became stepmother to the five children. She also gave birth to two children of her own and Adeline was no longer the youngest, now having a half Brother and half Sister. What takes place in Adeline's life and that of her immediate family is an absolute mess. The book closes around the end of the twentieth century, around the time Hong Kong was handed back to the Chinese by the British Government - July 1st 1997. The book reads like a suspenseful fictional novel as the family falls apart due to jealousies, betrayals and cold-heartedness only to rejoin in small factions to fight one another. These factions then split again as mistrust is replaced by power hunger and materialism. And just like the best suspense novel, there is a cliff-hanging act of devastating betrayal right at the end, that you won't see coming. As the family splits, Brothers and Sisters are flung far and wide in pursuit of wealth and education, with dire hopes of happiness and independence but are always under control in some way or another. As China plunges into chaos and Hong Kong opens as a destiny for many there is a terminal split within the family and members fly to London, Nigeria, Canada, Stuttgart and the U.S.A. Feuds last for decades, anger and accusations become commonplace yet Adeline is left striving to one day bring her family back together. If it is not enough that she must live her life within such a badly fractured family, Adeline also has to tend with personal problems on her own home front. All of this with the backdrop of WWII, the British handover of Hong Kong, the Mao Dynasty and Tiananmen Square. I said before that this is a depressing read but it is truly remarkable and very much worth it. Perhaps some of us don't really know how lucky we have it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Brent M. Jones

    Falling Leaves, The True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter is a look at the culture, country, and family relationships that just didn't work for any of the children in this wealthy Chinese family, especially for one young girl, Adeline Yen Mah. She was born in 1937 and her mother died when she was born, and her new mother was Eurasian who brought her own children into the marriage. She struggled to be loved by the family but was treated cruelly. Her respect for and effort to be part of the f Falling Leaves, The True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter is a look at the culture, country, and family relationships that just didn't work for any of the children in this wealthy Chinese family, especially for one young girl, Adeline Yen Mah. She was born in 1937 and her mother died when she was born, and her new mother was Eurasian who brought her own children into the marriage. She struggled to be loved by the family but was treated cruelly. Her respect for and effort to be part of the family, presents insights into the culture. Her relationships with her siblings as a young girl, and later as a successful woman, added a dimension to the cruelty she suffered from both of her parents. This Chinese proverb described her life. "When leaves fall down they return to their roots". It was hard to understand why she would have even wanted to return to her roots. It seemed that the real roots in this family was her strength. In 1949 Adeline was 12 years old with the impact of Mao on China and the revolution things changed for her father. He hoped to that the new government in Hong Kong might make things better for the family. during the revolution in China. It didn't get better for Adeline and she did not find love with either her dad or stepmother or with any of her 6 brothers and sisters. An aunt offered her love and encouragement to leave, and she went with her to the United States where she was realized her goals as a student and then was able to have a happy marriage. Her insights and successes, against all odds, are a fascinating part of this book. This Chinese proverb, "When leaves fall down they return to their roots", described her life. She didn’t want to return to her roots but then her real roots were her real roots, and those of her own family, was her strength. This book is one that I didn't want to put down. It left me anxious to find out what was coming next. For more on this book see web site www.connectedeventsmatter.com

  5. 4 out of 5

    Paul Wallis

    This is a bio with a particularly brutal twist. It's not a "pretty" book. It's a narrative of a viciously dysfunctional family. For those who don't know Chinese culture, it's also a pretty authentic look at the old hierarchy of family relationships. The nauseating/insane character of Niang, a truly Machiavellian monster of a stepmother, pervades the story, deforming family life. Adeline's innocent and understandably bewildered blundering through her early life is bad enough, but the story gets e This is a bio with a particularly brutal twist. It's not a "pretty" book. It's a narrative of a viciously dysfunctional family. For those who don't know Chinese culture, it's also a pretty authentic look at the old hierarchy of family relationships. The nauseating/insane character of Niang, a truly Machiavellian monster of a stepmother, pervades the story, deforming family life. Adeline's innocent and understandably bewildered blundering through her early life is bad enough, but the story gets even more twisted as it goes along. The relentless battering of nasty events in the story isn't pleasant reading. The almost Gulag Archipelago-like nature of the cruelty in the family is impossible to like. It reminded me a bit of David Copperfield, at some points. Falling Leaves leaves for dead so many fictional versions of family life. This is a story of premeditated cruelty to a family member. I saw one review saying "Why should I care about this person" and another which disliked the way it claims Adeline presents herself as a "victim", with which I utterly disagree. I can't claim to understand, let alone sympathize, with either viewpoint on principle. Approving or disapproving of someone's life story isn't a very realistic approach to reading a bio. Would reviewers prefer that the person had a different life story? How? Excuse my mentioning this point, but if the criteria for biographies was whether or not reviewers "liked" someone's life story, literature would be much poorer. Western readers may find some difficulty understanding the cultural references. This is a very Chinese story. Add to this the Chinese revolution, the rise of Hong Kong after 1949 and the Cultural Revolution, and Falling Leaves is a good introduction to the realities of being Chinese in the modern sense. History for this generation of Chinese was pure hell. The very black irony in Falling Leaves is that the family managed to add so much misery to its existence at such a time in history, even while being comparatively rich. You will find this a particularly confronting book. You will not expect the ending, or the logic of family behaviour. There are no "cute" bits, and even the occasional softenings of some parts of the story have a range of payoffs. A fiction writer could not have written this book. Read it as a story, and you'll see a book that needed to be written. Read it as a bio, and you'll see a story which can barely fit in to the book. Adeline did a good job of making this tale comprehensible, and she deserves credit for that.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Dorothea

    This memoir of an unwanted Chinese daughter failed to fully gain my sympathy for its author. Adeline Yen Mah was born in 1937 to a wealthy family in Tianjin. Her mother died shortly thereafter and her father married a woman who would become Adeline's wicked stepmother. When the family moved to Shanghai, Adeline was forced to endure the hideousness of her straight Chinese hair when she longed for a "perm" like the stylish westerns had. She and her brothers were forced to walk nearly three miles t This memoir of an unwanted Chinese daughter failed to fully gain my sympathy for its author. Adeline Yen Mah was born in 1937 to a wealthy family in Tianjin. Her mother died shortly thereafter and her father married a woman who would become Adeline's wicked stepmother. When the family moved to Shanghai, Adeline was forced to endure the hideousness of her straight Chinese hair when she longed for a "perm" like the stylish westerns had. She and her brothers were forced to walk nearly three miles to school. And they were deprived of pocket change with which to buy little candies. And sometimes, her siblings were mean to her! Adeline Yen Mah paints herself as a saint while bitterly recalling every injustice she endured throughout her childhood. Yes, her stepmother was a cruel bitch from hell but Adeline never shares with her readers anything she ever did to a another human being that she regrets. And for this reason it's difficult for this reader to completely trust or sympathize with her account. What I did appreciate from this book was the author's constant referral to the economic and political changes that were taking place in China from 1937 to 1994. For this reason I might read some of her other books. I feel she has a lot to offer the world through her writing if she could stop obsessing about gaining the love and approval of her flaccid father and her icy stepmother, especially when she measures "love" and "approval" in terms of how much money is given to her in their respective wills.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    I really didn't like this book. About 1/3 of the way through, I thought to myself, "Why do I care about this person." I even asked out loud a couple of nights later why I was reading the book. To which my husband replied, "Then don't read it." But, not one to stop a book half-way through, I continued on. I hoped that eventually I would come to understand why I should care about the author. At the end though, I still didn't. Sure, she had a crap childhood. For that, I give her pity. Her step moth I really didn't like this book. About 1/3 of the way through, I thought to myself, "Why do I care about this person." I even asked out loud a couple of nights later why I was reading the book. To which my husband replied, "Then don't read it." But, not one to stop a book half-way through, I continued on. I hoped that eventually I would come to understand why I should care about the author. At the end though, I still didn't. Sure, she had a crap childhood. For that, I give her pity. Her step mother didn't like her. But, her stepmother didn't like any of the kids. (Plus, it wasn't like she was getting thrown in a closet. Sure, she was sent away to boarding school...but at least she got an education.) In the end, she was able to make a success out of her life. What really got me is that she couldn't believe her stepmother had left her out of the will. Come on, who didn't see that coming? Her stepmother was evil. I don't know why the author kept expecting that to change. I wanted to scream, "Grow up and get over it. Your childhood sucked, your step mother was evil, your brothers and sisters were back stabbers." I felt that this book was full of self-pity, which she's never overcome. Waaaaaah. Waaaaaaaah. Waaaaaah.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)

    In English we say "An apple falls close to the tree" meaning you are like your family. In Shanghai they say "The leaves fall close to the roots" meaning you always go back to family, to your roots--like it or not. Covering a sweeping range of China's immediate past, from the 1930s to today, this book is partly fascinating history of a period of enormous upheaval and change, partly telenovela of the "Falcon Crest" sort, as it tells the story of a wealthy family and the machinations of the wicked s In English we say "An apple falls close to the tree" meaning you are like your family. In Shanghai they say "The leaves fall close to the roots" meaning you always go back to family, to your roots--like it or not. Covering a sweeping range of China's immediate past, from the 1930s to today, this book is partly fascinating history of a period of enormous upheaval and change, partly telenovela of the "Falcon Crest" sort, as it tells the story of a wealthy family and the machinations of the wicked stepmother to control everything from economic resources to her children's behaviour. I've read a lot of scathing reviews of this book, most of which attack the author (the unwanted fifth daughter) for "whining" and being a "victim." This is perhaps an understandable response on the part of a reader who has never been the scapegoat of a closed, dysfunctional family dynamic. For those of us who have been in that particular hotseat (even without the Asian family background) it's a little different. A rejected child often will do anything for a bit of approval on the part of the adults in her life--I've seen this even in single-child families in which the child is given "all the advantages" of special classes and opportunities to develop their talents, travel with parents, etc. And how many memoirs of children of the wealthy are there that reveal the ugliness under the privilege. Considering that the author was programmed from Day 1 to believe that she had cost her father's beloved first wife her life by just being born, and therefore deserved nothing, it's suprising she made anything of herself. If Yen Mah never got the counselling and guidance she needed to restore her sense of self-worth, it's not surprising that she never had the strength to make a final break with her family. A truly dysfunctional family does operate like a soap opera in many ways; I grew up in one as another last child who should have been a boy and wasn't, though we were working class, and I was fortunate enough to find the tools and strength to break away. I never outgrew my dream of a happy, united family, though by now I know it's a dream. As Yen Mah's brother James remarks in the narrative: "Your problem is that you're always transferring your own feelings and reasonings to others. You wanted to believe we all shared your dream of a united family. In fact, no one cared except for you." I hear that. For that very reason I have never written about my own experiences, though some have encouraged me to. It wasn't pleasant to live it, why put it out there and spread the misery? Besides, "catharsis" can often spill over into payback. And at some point your abusers have to become unimportant in your life; otherwise, they just keep winning, even after they're dead. At some point they've got to stop controlling the inside of your head. I did find the part where the author finds comfort and release from the burden in a folk tale a bit wish-fulfillment, but she probably wanted to end on a positive note and a "lesson".

  9. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    I couldn't put down this book, but it was utterly, utterly depressing. I mentioned that to a friend, who glanced at it and said, "Uh, did you see the subtitle? What did you think it was going to be?" Touché. The few moments of respite from wanting to cry were when Mah put in Chinese history for context, which worked well, was helpful, and as I said, let me breathe for a moment before I inevitably wanted to go back in time and adopt this poor creature. And that was the thing that got me - at least I couldn't put down this book, but it was utterly, utterly depressing. I mentioned that to a friend, who glanced at it and said, "Uh, did you see the subtitle? What did you think it was going to be?" Touché. The few moments of respite from wanting to cry were when Mah put in Chinese history for context, which worked well, was helpful, and as I said, let me breathe for a moment before I inevitably wanted to go back in time and adopt this poor creature. And that was the thing that got me - at least twice in this book, an adult outside of the family shows they are clearly aware of what's going on. The most shining example is when Niang's sister picks up Adeline from school and tells her, "Don't worry, I'll treat you all the same." So, how in the hell could they just hand her back over to her family? The husband worked for the UN, it's not as if they had to worry about insane repercussions, considering they could just point to the obvious abuses she had suffered and ruin the family's reputation. I digress. I definitely became super frustrated with Mah by the end, because I could not for the life of me understand how, living on a separate continent for years and years, she still cared so much what these psychopaths thought of her. I related more (and wanted to know more about) Susan, who also rejected the will money. And I agree with other reviewers who thought the focus on that seemed odd, and came off as selfish. I don't think it's selfish, because hello, you were abused for years and your parents are loaded, certainly you're entitled to hope that at least when they kick it you'll get something out of it - but at the same time, I can't really relate to someone who would even want a cent of that kind of person's money, especially when they already made a great living completely on their own merit. As a side note: While this certainly wasn't the most amazing book I've ever read, I'm a little concerned at some of the reviews that depict the author as whiny and spoiled for wanting tram fare to go the mile and a half to school . . . when she was six, and living in the middle of a metropolis. In addition, it's a bit of a reach to say she was whiny in general. If you think any type of behavior aside from psychopathy under the age of 13 (the age at which she's sent away to boarding school), especially when said child is earning straight A's and winning writing contests, earns a child the abuse she endured, you're absolutely nuts. I actually wonder if people are thinking she's older in parts of the book than she actually was. And again - whiny because when her friends gave her a surprise party for winning class president, she got a bloody nose and all of her friends were sent home? She was TEN. I don't think anyone can argue that this family is ridiculously dysfunctional, with Niang being the sort of psychopathic mastermind behind all of it. The siblings' behavior isn't "mean" in the typical sense, but they were trained to be manipulative, demeaning, and disgusting. Basically, a "Lord of the Flies" situation. Again, sort of scary people think that this is normal. My brother and I weren't friends growing up, but he never was cruel or . . pissed in my orange juice. THEY PISSED IN HER ORANGE JUICE. Ugh.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Polly

    Falling leaves is the second book I read from Adeline Yan Mah, which is a connecting story to The Chinese Cinderella. Since I read The Chinese Cinderella first so the Falling Leaves doesnt seem as interesting. I got pretty bored at the beginning so I strongly recommend readers to read this book before the other. The first half of the book discuesses how Adeline was teased by her siblings because after few days of her birth, her mother pass away. Which her rich father got another wife that is ha Falling leaves is the second book I read from Adeline Yan Mah, which is a connecting story to The Chinese Cinderella. Since I read The Chinese Cinderella first so the Falling Leaves doesnt seem as interesting. I got pretty bored at the beginning so I strongly recommend readers to read this book before the other. The first half of the book discuesses how Adeline was teased by her siblings because after few days of her birth, her mother pass away. Which her rich father got another wife that is half french. Their stepmother doesn't like them and treat them way too unfairly compare to her own children. Adeline's brothers and sister blame her for having such stepmother. Continuing from the Chinese Cinderella, Adeline's father decide that her daughter does have the potential to go to college and so he sent her to America. Where Adeline met her lovely husband and later helped her father through care and paying money to cure her father in U.S. This is one of the book that show the theme of hard workers will get what they deserve at the end. I believe her story will influence people to understand and provide unconditional care with love to their family.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Denise

    This fabulous autobiography is both a Cinderella story and a view into 20th century Chinese life. The author was born to a successful family in Shanghai, but had the bad luck to be the baby born just before her mother's death. She was despised, not only by her siblings but by the woman that her father married. She spent her young life trying to please her parents and trying to bring her family together. It is a portrait of a very dysfunctional family. My heart ached for Adeline at the numerous i This fabulous autobiography is both a Cinderella story and a view into 20th century Chinese life. The author was born to a successful family in Shanghai, but had the bad luck to be the baby born just before her mother's death. She was despised, not only by her siblings but by the woman that her father married. She spent her young life trying to please her parents and trying to bring her family together. It is a portrait of a very dysfunctional family. My heart ached for Adeline at the numerous injustices imposed on her by her cruel stepmother. Thankfully Adeline found some encouragement from an aunt. This autobiography demonstrates how one can overcome hurdles and succeed. I enjoyed the vibrant descriptions of Shanghai and the historical information about the changing China from 1920's to today. Highly recommend...

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    This is a typical Cinderella versus Evil Stepmother story. From the subtitle I anticipated a horror story of deprivation and starvation, little girl sent to the orphanage or sold into slavery type of thing. Instead, it reads more like a poor little rich girl saga. Adeline's mother died shortly after her birth and her father, a wealthy businessman, took on a new trophy wife. The result was a mixed family of siblings and step-siblings who, predictably, were split along maternal lines in that the c This is a typical Cinderella versus Evil Stepmother story. From the subtitle I anticipated a horror story of deprivation and starvation, little girl sent to the orphanage or sold into slavery type of thing. Instead, it reads more like a poor little rich girl saga. Adeline's mother died shortly after her birth and her father, a wealthy businessman, took on a new trophy wife. The result was a mixed family of siblings and step-siblings who, predictably, were split along maternal lines in that the children of wife number two were accorded preferential treatment over the descendants of wife number one. The ensuing story is not so much about being deprived on a material scale: Adeline's problem is that she is deprived of parental attention and affection. In short, she was not accorded the same treatment as her step-siblings or, in some cases, that of her own siblings. If Adeline is being 100% on the level here, and let's not forget hers is the only voice we hear, she was definitely screwed on by the other members of the family. This is a tale of deceit and double-dealing, with fortunes and inheritances usurped and confidences betrayed. Adeline was robbed of her inheritance, but she was well-educated and advantageously employed, having emigrated to the USA and having been employed as a medical professional. It's not like she had to beg in the street on give handjobs in an alley for a nickel. I wondered about Adeline's motivation in writing the book. Was it to get back at her siblings and step-siblings? Although she accomplished a lot in her life, I wasn't exactly sure that it was book-worthy as it all seemed to be family politics. Family drama can still be interesting, however, and I did enjoy reading her story and learning a bit about China. I also enjoyed that she included a Chinese adage or proverb as a heading to each chapter. The book is nicely constructed and well written and, in the absence of anything exciting, still holds the reader's interest.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    I don't like to be negative about stories like this--hard childhoods. As a book, it is okay. Well written, some good descriptions. The author is about the same age as my mother, and this gave a context for me. She grew up as a miserable rich girl in Hong Kong. Read it yourself if you want to. My negative point of view is that I find children who keep chasing their parents' love and approval annoying. This is nothing against Ms. Yen Mah, she really survived a lot of rejection, lousy marriage, etc. I don't like to be negative about stories like this--hard childhoods. As a book, it is okay. Well written, some good descriptions. The author is about the same age as my mother, and this gave a context for me. She grew up as a miserable rich girl in Hong Kong. Read it yourself if you want to. My negative point of view is that I find children who keep chasing their parents' love and approval annoying. This is nothing against Ms. Yen Mah, she really survived a lot of rejection, lousy marriage, etc.. But I just don't enjoy the victim narratives. It reminded me in some weird way, of the autobio of Robin Quivers I read decades ago....I remember the same annoyance in the way she kept engaging with her realatives, who, by her own account, were bad people. I'm sure it is not so simple, but that doesn't make me love the book. There is also a tiny dig in the way she gets rich due to payment scales in medicare legislation creating a "bonanza" for her. She mentions how patients don't know the cost of services, as if this is a good thing since she can keep getting paid more.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Amber Karnes

    You know those books you can't put down? This was one of em for me. I was mesmerized by the cruelty the author was subjected to by her own family in this quite depressing account of a child's life, and somehow I still left with a positive impression. She didn't slam her family or say anything hurtful about them (which they MORE than deserved), she just presented her memories and the memories of her siblings as laid out facts. This is what happened to me. She's more courageous than I would have b You know those books you can't put down? This was one of em for me. I was mesmerized by the cruelty the author was subjected to by her own family in this quite depressing account of a child's life, and somehow I still left with a positive impression. She didn't slam her family or say anything hurtful about them (which they MORE than deserved), she just presented her memories and the memories of her siblings as laid out facts. This is what happened to me. She's more courageous than I would have been. I was so happy in the end when she finally met her match and was able to make peace (as much as can be expected) with what was left after her parents died.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    I probably would not have read this book if a friend hadn't given it to me before moving away (to California). Thinking that it was a new book, I was surprised that it was published in 1997, already more than 20 years ago. The author, Adeline Yen Mah, a Chinese-American physician born in China, was born in 1937, so she's 80 years old now. It's her story of overcoming loneliness and despair resulting from a traumatic childhood. The backdrop of her youth is one of turmoil and revolutionary change I probably would not have read this book if a friend hadn't given it to me before moving away (to California). Thinking that it was a new book, I was surprised that it was published in 1997, already more than 20 years ago. The author, Adeline Yen Mah, a Chinese-American physician born in China, was born in 1937, so she's 80 years old now. It's her story of overcoming loneliness and despair resulting from a traumatic childhood. The backdrop of her youth is one of turmoil and revolutionary changes, as China went through Japanese invasion followed by civil war and the takeover by the Communists under Mao in 1949. All that was of interest to me but what I really found riveting was this girl's desperate struggle and her final success in finding love and acceptance. As the youngest daughter in her family and, also, because of her mother's death after her birth--and then her father's marriage to another woman, she became the unwanted daughter of the title. Her stepmother was cruel to her and indeed was manipulative of everyone around her. It wasn't just the stepmother, but all her older siblings who mistreated her while the father did almost nothing to help or protect her. If it wasn't for her aunt, I don't know what would have happened to her as her aunt showed her affection and gave her the encouragement she needed. Adeline must have been a brilliant girl because she was most successful at school. Finally, she would get the chance to go to England to study medicine... A most remarkable autobiography, heartrending at times, certainly unforgettable.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    I was excited to read this book. Now that I'm finished, I'm a little flummoxed as to my reaction. So I review it through two different lenses. Whenever I read memoirs, I look at them in terms of "this is someone's life story, it's not going to fit a traditional book story narrative" and then I do think of it in terms of a standard narrative. Memoirs are a unique mix of these perspectives. First, as a memoir, it's excellent. Her recall of detail, clearly aided by her siblings' memory and supplemen I was excited to read this book. Now that I'm finished, I'm a little flummoxed as to my reaction. So I review it through two different lenses. Whenever I read memoirs, I look at them in terms of "this is someone's life story, it's not going to fit a traditional book story narrative" and then I do think of it in terms of a standard narrative. Memoirs are a unique mix of these perspectives. First, as a memoir, it's excellent. Her recall of detail, clearly aided by her siblings' memory and supplemented with description the context of world events, is sharp and paints an amazing picture. Her use of language--including original Chinese sayings--is precise, evocative, and moving. The timeline sometimes jumps back and forth a bit, but that's to be expected in a book that ties together a lot of threads. Second, as a book, it's a little weaker. The narrative at times seemed very matter-of-fact, and at other times seems to manipulate the reader into constantly feeling sorry for the author. The recital of her feelings seemed somewhat robotic instead of moving in places. And, in the end, there was no final overcoming, no challenge truly met. It just kind of stopped. Overall, I do recommend the book for an insightful and moving look at family dynamics in Chinese families.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Blanchard

    Ever wonder what it would be like to grow up as the unwanted daughter? In Chinese culture, where people are ranked by sex, social status, and order of birth, the main character finds herself on the bottom of every measuring stick. Learn how she overcomes feelings of worthlessness, abandonment, and rejection to triumph over a culture that tries to kill her spirit simply because she was born a girl, the unwanted daughter of her father's least favorite wife. Ever wonder what it would be like to grow up as the unwanted daughter? In Chinese culture, where people are ranked by sex, social status, and order of birth, the main character finds herself on the bottom of every measuring stick. Learn how she overcomes feelings of worthlessness, abandonment, and rejection to triumph over a culture that tries to kill her spirit simply because she was born a girl, the unwanted daughter of her father's least favorite wife.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Danley Hu

    I picked this book out because I thought there could have been some connections I could have made with it, considering my heritage is also Chinese. This book was however a book that didn't quite capture any essence of true culture. It was more of a narrative about how the protagonist's childhood was horrid and negative. A majority of the book was insignificant and I didn't really understand why I was reading this book. It didn't make a lot of sense to me. It was a book that, in ways, asked for p I picked this book out because I thought there could have been some connections I could have made with it, considering my heritage is also Chinese. This book was however a book that didn't quite capture any essence of true culture. It was more of a narrative about how the protagonist's childhood was horrid and negative. A majority of the book was insignificant and I didn't really understand why I was reading this book. It didn't make a lot of sense to me. It was a book that, in ways, asked for pity points. It was a retell of her life and childhood, how she was picked on by her siblings and her stepmother was a witch. Within this novel is a retell of the protagonist's family and her own heritage. Some parts were well written. Parts that described her father and her siblings treatment towards her was well written. However, besides that, i did feel as if the book lacked a lot of substance. I wouldn't recommend it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    couldn't even get half way through. the only emotion that this account brought up was anger - anger that such a whiny, spoilt child is still holding on to her mistreatment as a child while there is true abuse and neglect going on everyday that makes her inability to get tram fair (oh no, she had to walk 3 miles to her private school while her classmates took their chauffered limos!) look pathetic. she no doubt had an unhappy childhood and her stepmother clearly did not understand mothering, but couldn't even get half way through. the only emotion that this account brought up was anger - anger that such a whiny, spoilt child is still holding on to her mistreatment as a child while there is true abuse and neglect going on everyday that makes her inability to get tram fair (oh no, she had to walk 3 miles to her private school while her classmates took their chauffered limos!) look pathetic. she no doubt had an unhappy childhood and her stepmother clearly did not understand mothering, but this was not book worthy. perhaps if she had any writing talents, the story would have been told in such a way that I might have felt for her. however, she is such an awful writer and story teller that she simply came across as the poor little rich girl.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

    Spoiler Alert! I never felt any connection or deep sympathy buildup with Adeline Yen Mah. Apparently she did not have the best of chilhoods. Her brothers teased and hit her and her stepmother did hit her once, but was she sexually molested, locked in closets, sold down the river? Nooooo, she was well educated (admittedly lonely), fed, clothed, and hospitalized when sick, sent abroad for more education, all on her father's dime! Then she has the nerve to say he didn't love her when she felt left Spoiler Alert! I never felt any connection or deep sympathy buildup with Adeline Yen Mah. Apparently she did not have the best of chilhoods. Her brothers teased and hit her and her stepmother did hit her once, but was she sexually molested, locked in closets, sold down the river? Nooooo, she was well educated (admittedly lonely), fed, clothed, and hospitalized when sick, sent abroad for more education, all on her father's dime! Then she has the nerve to say he didn't love her when she felt left out of the will! Why should anyone expect to be left anything that is not yours to begin with is beyond me!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    I read this book in 3 days. I really admire the author's candor and honesty. Her life story is heartbreaking at times and the history of Shanghai, Tianjin and Hong Kong were brought to life to me through her story. Despite the cruelty she experienced, Adeline was always looking for acceptance and the best in other people. For that alone, she is to be admired and yet others would admire her ability to have survived and succeeded in life academically and ultimately financially with so many obstacl I read this book in 3 days. I really admire the author's candor and honesty. Her life story is heartbreaking at times and the history of Shanghai, Tianjin and Hong Kong were brought to life to me through her story. Despite the cruelty she experienced, Adeline was always looking for acceptance and the best in other people. For that alone, she is to be admired and yet others would admire her ability to have survived and succeeded in life academically and ultimately financially with so many obstacles to prevent her from doing so in her life. I will remember her story for a long time.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ruth Bertram

    Wow. Wow! WOW!!! I cried, I laughed (like twice) and I relived the injustices of being a small child (albeit on a much smaller scale than the author). Must read for anyone and everyone.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sheryl

    All time favourite. Story about thriving, acceptance and pursuing her dream. I will definitely read it again.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Gallup

    Since memoir is my primary area of interest as a writer, and since Chinese culture/history remains one of my favorite subjects, this book ought to have thrilled me a lot more than it did. I like the way the story is structured, with the bereaved family gathering in the lawyer's office to hear the reading of their father's will, followed by all the years of earlier events leading up to that moment, a second pass at describing it with more understanding, and then a few more years in which the famil Since memoir is my primary area of interest as a writer, and since Chinese culture/history remains one of my favorite subjects, this book ought to have thrilled me a lot more than it did. I like the way the story is structured, with the bereaved family gathering in the lawyer's office to hear the reading of their father's will, followed by all the years of earlier events leading up to that moment, a second pass at describing it with more understanding, and then a few more years in which the family essentially winds down. I marvel at the utterly evil parents portrayed here and their unspeakably callous treatment of innocent children, as well as the cruel manipulation that continues after everyone is grown. I'd thought Sean Wilsey's family was awful in Oh the Glory of it All , but apparently I just did not know how bad families can be. What I do not like about this one recalls the complaint several of my fellow ms critics at authonomy.com have voiced about nonfiction in general. They're biased against it because they say there's too much tiresome summary: this happened, and then this happened, and so on. Naturally, when writing memoir, by definition one does have to deal with the sequence of events. The trick -- and what Adeline Yeh Mah does not do with sufficient success -- is to transform those events by interpreting them through the impressions, emotions, and thoughts both of the younger self living them and the older self now reflecting on them. She does finally start giving shape to her motivations near the end, and says quite explicitly that, unlike the younger half-sister who broke away from their parents' control she always yearned for and did everything possible to win acceptance. However, most of the time she's holding back too much to get below the surface. That's a pity. I think she could have produced something far more devastating with just a little more guidance and feedback.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    This book is by no means a feel-good memoir in almost any sense, as the dominating character---the author's stepmother---is on a par with any evil character conjured in fables or by Disney. Few of the supporting cast are of much redeeming value as well, from the successful but weak father who lets his new wife control and destroy his family, to the siblings who scheme, plot, and connive. One aunt is a shining light of strong will and determination and kindness. The children each react to oppress This book is by no means a feel-good memoir in almost any sense, as the dominating character---the author's stepmother---is on a par with any evil character conjured in fables or by Disney. Few of the supporting cast are of much redeeming value as well, from the successful but weak father who lets his new wife control and destroy his family, to the siblings who scheme, plot, and connive. One aunt is a shining light of strong will and determination and kindness. The children each react to oppression in different manners, but I was amazed by how they were able to be manipulated even when they saw what was happening. Although one must always take memoirs with a large dose of skepticism, Mah's recollections will put a chill into any reader. But she was sent to college and received a good education (as were most of her siblings), with much of the credit because of her own strong will (though many times I was bothered by her inability to just tell her parents were they could go when she got older. The dad, as terrible as he could be, did seem to have a measure of love for his kids, even if he couldn't show it and bent to the will of his iron-willed evil (but beautiful) wife. I cannot believe that this family would be a template for most Chinese families, even older and wealthy ones. Of course, these type of machinations can happen anywhere, but this account is often heartrending. I wanted to smack some heads, and say, "you don't treat your family this way." I also didn't see much care given to the servants and loyal staff, though it may just have slipped her mind. One of the best lines in the book, though, occurs when one of the sons, in school in Britain, decides he wants to become a professional bridge player and sends a note asking for permission, and his father sends back a telegrams stating only: "Why not become a pimp instead?" [And, I hope she is not a Frey. It is horrible and unnerving, and sad, that readers of these types of books have been so repeatedly duped. I hope not in this case, and all future ones.]

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jai

    I started with Chinese Cinderella and fell in love with Adeline and her resilience. Falling Leaves is the adult version of the novel, and gives you an in depth explanation of everything. To endure so much apathy from your own siblings, a stiff stepmother& and greedy spineless father is so sad; it's a wonder she didn't rebel against them in a more destructive manner- the same way teenagers do, today. The novel is beautiful, heartbreaking, and engulfs you as if you are just a painting on the wall I started with Chinese Cinderella and fell in love with Adeline and her resilience. Falling Leaves is the adult version of the novel, and gives you an in depth explanation of everything. To endure so much apathy from your own siblings, a stiff stepmother& and greedy spineless father is so sad; it's a wonder she didn't rebel against them in a more destructive manner- the same way teenagers do, today. The novel is beautiful, heartbreaking, and engulfs you as if you are just a painting on the wall bearing witness. Despite the fact that the Mahs were just as dysfunctional as any other family, you really get a sense of the family traditions and religious practices that fold and encompass their personal values. & as much as you want to hate her immediate family and want her to hate them too,you can't help but respect that she can't & one really shouldn't. It reminds me of the Mackenzie Phillips discussion about her own unspeakable horrors at the hands of her own father. (& by no means is this an excuse or diminishes the fact that abuse is wrong) She mentioned that love for your parents is an intrinsic, inescapable thing. (& therefore making it even more difficult for her to assess that the abuse from her father was horribly wrong) What Mah teaches us is something many have heard before. Love your enemies. You don't have to agree w/ them associate w/ them or assist them at their hour of death- like Scar begging Simba, but forgiving them and loving them despite it all makes you the bigger person. She went through many realms of Hell with them, even after death, but came out a better person from it all. What more can one ask for from himself?

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dorothy

    Let me be clear: I don't like memoirs. I read one by accident about two years ago, and I haven't been able to stop. I enjoy reading about people from cultures other than my own and Mrs. Mah is from a culture incredibly different, but one I am interested in. I loved the way the story was told and I felt somewhat bad for Niang. I wondered if she wasn't abused emotionally as a child herself, with the way she treated her stepchildren and then her own. I wish we could have gotten a bit of Niang's sid Let me be clear: I don't like memoirs. I read one by accident about two years ago, and I haven't been able to stop. I enjoy reading about people from cultures other than my own and Mrs. Mah is from a culture incredibly different, but one I am interested in. I loved the way the story was told and I felt somewhat bad for Niang. I wondered if she wasn't abused emotionally as a child herself, with the way she treated her stepchildren and then her own. I wish we could have gotten a bit of Niang's side of the story, too, however, this was fantastic the way it was. Especially since Adeline, Jun-ling, had no idea what it was she had even done. I didn't like Lydia's treatment of her in the end, remembering that Adeline had made the offer to give Tai-ling the same treatment, but was turned down by Lydia herself saying that Tai-ling was to be married. Oh well. I gave this book a 4/5 stars because it was certainly one of the more interesting reads of the month.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lezlee Hays

    Adeline Yen Mah's memoir is interesting from several vantage points: spanning her childhood in china, young adulthood in England and the remainder of her life in California, her story is one that lends great context to the pre-world war 2 china and it's transition to communism following the revolution. But her story is really about yearning for love and acceptance in an extremely difficult family and ultimately the will to survive and triumph. Adeline Yen Mah's memoir is interesting from several vantage points: spanning her childhood in china, young adulthood in England and the remainder of her life in California, her story is one that lends great context to the pre-world war 2 china and it's transition to communism following the revolution. But her story is really about yearning for love and acceptance in an extremely difficult family and ultimately the will to survive and triumph.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bechai Jalea

    Depression caught up with me while reading this book. I was already touched by its condensed version (Chinese Cinderella) and reading this book felt like rubbing in the "touchy feeling" even more. My heart goes to Aunt Baba who survived being a spinster, a worker in a male-dominated labor force, and a victim of war. It's amazing how a person endures, and live through life amid utmost cruelty. Depression caught up with me while reading this book. I was already touched by its condensed version (Chinese Cinderella) and reading this book felt like rubbing in the "touchy feeling" even more. My heart goes to Aunt Baba who survived being a spinster, a worker in a male-dominated labor force, and a victim of war. It's amazing how a person endures, and live through life amid utmost cruelty.

  30. 5 out of 5

    JoAnna

    I was surprised I enjoyed this book as much as I did. It was a good story about personal resilience. It also highlighted how powerful the need to be loved and accepted is. I also enjoyed learning more about Chinese culture and history. The author did a good job keeping it relevant to the story.

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