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Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah
This is another of the books I have had passed on to me by my daughter and despite the fact that it seems to had a lot of hype when it was first published I missed that and so had no pre conceived ideas about the book at all when I started reading it. I liked that as often if you have read that something is wonderful it has a lot to live up to, but reading it with no background knowledge meant I had a very open mind.
ABIT ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I won't say much here as this is a memoir so if I tell you too much you may as well not read the book. Adeline write her story with the tag line " The true story of an unwanted Chinese daughter" which is enough to bring a tear to my eye before I even began to read the book.
She was unwanted as she was thought to be the bringer of bad luck as her mother had died giving birth to her. She suffered cruel discrimination from within her own family all her life and yet despite this seemed to excel at school and has indeed made a success of her life.
Well as i have already said this is Adeline's story of her life and how she was treated by her family. Despite the most awful cruelty and emotional starvation Adeline at no time ever plays the 'poor me' card. She writes almost matter of factly, telling how things were and almost as though she was telling someone else's story at times even though it is written in the first person.
At the same time as being Adeline's story it is also very much the story of any Chinese family as we learn how things are done in a Chinese family. How respect and values are very different from those in Western families. This is the story of a wealthy and influential family and how what people see outside of the family is very different from what went on behind the closed front door.
It is also the story of the changes taking place in China at this time from just before the civil war, during the civil war and how many moved out of China into Hong Kong and made their fortunes there while leaving family behind in China that they didn't see for years.
It is a story of how one woman can completely change an entire family through selfish and controlling manipulation of her husband. How the death of a loving caring wife and the remarriage of the husband can completely alter the fortunes of that family.
This is not a 'poor me' story despite the fact that as I was reading there were several places where I was moved to tears, never does Adleline ever give the impression that she wants our pity. What I found so amazing was that despite how awful her step mother was to her Adeline still maintained contact and helped her out as her father became ill late in life. I am afraid that had I been treated only half as badly the step mother would have been told to 'go fish' if she had ever tried to contact me.
I do know from my work with children in care that it doesn't seem to matter how awful the parents are the abandoned child still seems to want approval or 'love' from them. I think this is the case with Adeline. I didn't matter how awful the step mother was she still wanted her father's approval and more important his love and that is why she kept of giving to them once she was a successful doctor in the USA and quite safe from step mother's manipulations.
STYLE OF WRITING
I found the style of writing very easy to read. Adeline writes as though she is telling you her story verbally. You almost feel she is there beside you describing these events. She writes beautifully with very vivid descriptions of the places and the formal dining arrangements, her journey to school in Shanghai and so on.
I thought her chapter titles using Chinese 'sayings' was very clever. The chapter titles are written in English and then in Chinese using English writing then again in Chinese characters. So you have titles like 'Climbing a tree to seek for fish' which in Chinese is 'Yuan Mu Qiu Yu'.
There is an author's note which I think sums up Adeline's honestly and decency. She states that
"This is a true story. Much of it was painful and difficult to write but I felt compelled to do so. I continue to have deep feelings towards many members of my family and harbour no wish to hurt anyone unnecessarily. I have therefore disguised the Christian names of all my living siblings, their spouses and their children. However my parent's names are real, so are all the vents described."
I was so very touched by this book right from the start I was there beside Adeline listening to her every word. There were times when I was shouting, 'why are you going back?' 'Leave them to sort their own problems' and so on but she must be such a strong character and such a lovely genuine loving and forgiving person to react as she has in life after the truly unforgivable and awful way she was treated. All the children were pretty badly treated in different ways; the evil stepmother used emotional blackmail and played them off against each other. How the father could sit back and allow her to do it beats me. In fact I think his behaviour is almost worse than hers as these were his children for goodness sake. He should have grown a backbone and stood up to her or thrown her out in my view.
To give you an idea of this woman's evilness I will just quote this from the book. The family had been staying with Adleine's aunt Baba while her Dad and Step mother went to Shangahi and set up home there. This was Adeline's description of their reuniting with Niang (stepmother) and father after about a year or so. The stepmother went to pick up her daughter from Adeline's aunt...
"To my two year old sister her mother ( Niang) was a complete stranger. Susan wriggled and fought and resisted with all her might. She burst into tears and screaming, 'I don't want you! I want aunt Baba! Aunt Baba!'
No one dared say a word. All conversation sceased as we watched Susan kick and struggle in Niang's arms. Finally, to my horror, Niang forced her child down on the couch beside her and gave her a stinging slap across the face. Susan only cried louder. Exasperated and by now no longer in control, Niang began a vicious beating of her daughter, her slaps landing on Susan's little cheeks, ears, head. Everyone in the room cowered.
I was totally bewildered. I could not understand why Father, Ye Ye ( his father) or Aunt Baba did not intervene to stop this torture...... Finally forgetting who I was or where i was, I blurted out in a trembling voice, 'Don't beat her any more! She's only a baby!'"
That will give you a small idea of what a witch this woman was and also how little the children could do as Father, grandfather and aunt also seemed to be under her spell and stood by while this torture was inflicted upon the children. It completely shocked me and that is just a small inkling of her scheming evil ways.
It is the sort of book that makes you want to grab the woman and do something very painful to her and I totally admire Adeline for her self respect, her success in life and her bravery at writing this book too as it can't have been easy.
The part that really got to me was when the will were read and the father's will. I won't say what happened but suffice to say that having suffered something very similar from my father in his will I know exactly how she felt. It is something that unless it happens to you personally for whatever reason you will never know how hurtful it feels.
I would say this is not just another 'look at poor me what an awful childhood I had' book. It is far more than that. It is a real insight into the ways of a Chinese family. It also takes you through a very turbulent period in China's history and it also makes you think that if someone who has had such an awful family life can be so very generous and forgiving them perhaps I should not be quite as quick to take umbrage over things that happen in my own extended family.
My review title is a quote from the book - one of the chapter titles and I feel that must be how she felt at times.
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.
I absolutely love autobiographies and it's pretty much all I read, but unfortunately I was a bit disappointed with this book. I knew it was going to be a fairly sad story, as that is how it's described on the back of the book, but it also says that it's an inspiring story about success in the face of many hurdles - unfortunately I just didn't see enough of this side talked about and I felt that it dragged in places and found my mind drifting.
***** Story *****
Adeline Mah is a child born into a middle-class family in Shanghai. Sadly her mother dies during her birth and it is not long before her father finds a new wife in a lady the children call Niang. She is a lot younger and half-French, with very high material expectations in life. Soon Adeline's father finds himself wrapped around her little finger and succumbing to her every demand. She is a vindictive and selfish woman, only thinking of herself and treating her step-children mainly as if they are unwanted rats that she has to put up with, especially Adeline who she develops a serious dislike for.
The book is about Adeline's upbringing in a family where she is unwanted and unloved and has to find her own way in life.
***** Backdrop *****
The backdrop to the book is the political situation in China in the mid 1900s and the communist uprising. This has serious effects for everyone living in China and many just want to escape - in the book you see the results of this as some people stay and suffer the consequences of a country in turmoil, and others leave and find a new life elsewhere.
I have to admit, I'm not great when it comes to politics and history - I find it really interesting when I get small amounts of information at a time, especially when it's woven into a story, and I like to learn about what's going on / gone on in the world, but if I get too many dates and terms in one go then it tends to go over my head and my mind starts drifting. This book isn't wholly focused on the politics at the time but it did go into a fair amount of detail every now and again - most people would say that this wasn't too much but I did find myself suddenly realising I'd arrived at the end of the page and forgotten to take anything in every now and again.
***** Pace *****
I found that the book had quite a slow start to it and that descriptions were very long and detailed - I personally prefer a more colloquial / informal style. I was glad I persisted with it as, after about a quarter of the book, I did start to get a lot more into it and I found myself a lot more interested in the story and really wanting to find out what happened next and then it did become a real page-turner for quite a while. I can't go into details as it will give away what happened, but I found the ending very disappointing and found myself quite deflated at the end. I think this is the main problem with the book for me - the ending is what generally leaves you with your overall impression of a book and if it's disappointing, you start looking at the book in that light.
***** Tone *****
I know that people who enjoyed the book will probably frown on me for being disappointed in the way the book was written, as it's a book in which we learn about the difficulties a young girl goes through throughout her life and who overcomes them. This is fine for me, and I totally appreciate this, but given that she did overcome them I would have liked to learn a bit more about the positive sides of her life, as the story of the book is that she does find happiness in life despite all her turmoils in life but I don't really get to experience this side much. I would have liked to know more about where she is and what she is doing today, more about her kids and her husband, a little bit more about her work and other people she has met along the way who have had a positive influence or impression on her. You could argue that this isn't what the book is about, that it's focusing on her family and her struggles with them, but then that just makes it a book that isn't really for me personally.
***** Characters *****
It's shocking to hear about such awful people in the book and how they treat Adeline - I would be devastated to be her and to know that I couldn't really trust any of my own family (brothers, sisters, parents). Some of it is so cruel that it's hard to believe. I'd be really interested to hear her family's point of view about the way they treated her - of course not saying that they are right in any way but I'd just be curious as to how they could even attempt to justify their actions.
***** Overall *****
Overall I found the beginning boring and hard to get into, the middle part quite captivating and interesting, but then the end disappointing, so unfortunately not one of my favourite books by a long way.
I have just finished reading Adeline Yen Mah's book Falling Leaves: The True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter and I have to say I found it a real mixed bag of a read. Part of me found the abuse and neglect suffered by Adeline made for harrowing and engrossing reading which definitely yanks on the heartstrings. The other part of me began to get fed up with the humble and self-pitying tone played throughout and the knowledge that this story has been told a hundred times in a hundred ways by others who have done it better.
Without divulging too much information - for those who haven't read it here goes.
Adeline was born with the Chinese name Jun-Ling and her mother dies just a few days after her birth. She was the fifth daughter from her fathers first marriage. He remarried - Niang- and they had two more children. Adeline's fate was sealed, she was the youngest of the step-children and treated as the least important, always carrying the burden of her own mothers death. Her stepmother was cruel in unimaginable ways and although the family had considerable wealth, Adeline had a very poor upbringing in terms of love and affection. It would seem that all Adeline had/has ever wanted was to feel appreciated and her search for this closure, very naieve at times and always shocking is the basis of the story.
Adeline's family were extremely wealthy and managed to manouevre their lives and wealth through some very tricky and key parts of Chinese history, living in Shanghai, Communist China and the new and developing Hong Kong colony,also the Cultural revolution and WWII, and later the economic reforms in 1970's. The family also had connections with Canada, The USA where Adeline eventually settled and the UK where she studied.
The entire book rollercoasters between the dysfunctional relationships between Adeline, her siblings, her psychotic stepmother (who in my mind reminds me of Cruella de Ville) and her passive father, and these problems carry across many different country's borders
Adelines' only source of love came from her Grandfather YeYe, who died in a very poor state and her Aunt Baba who remained in Communist China after the rest of the family departed and suffered greatly for her faith and family. These two people were seen as spoiling Adeline from a young age and eventually these relationships were tethered from her.
Why I am being stingy with my sympathy
Throughout the novel it is plainly clear that Adeline has suffered great emotional neglect. She has my greatest sympathy for this. Her family however didn't sell her off or extradite her - no, but they did pay for her education. She always turned to her books and her education when things were tough for her at home and this, she claims is where she found her peace, in her studies. Well that is fair enough. Luckily she did so well that her parents paid for her to study at med school in the UK for as long as it took to pass. She was able with both her abilities, her multilingual capability and her sheer bloodyminded determinism when it came to gafting to succeed. All of this she claims was in search of the approval she so deperately desired from her parents and her father in particular.
Her father always encouraged her to become a Doctor -a fantastic, interesting and truly well paid profession the world over especially for a woman. Not only did she become a doctor, but she did so with honours, always looking for the approval she could never satisfy whilst her father was alive. She also couples this with the annoying sibling rivalry that torments her life. Her place within the family never seems secure or respected and instead of blocking this out she does seem to pander to every trigger. I do understand this but I can't condone it. I would be pretty curt with my own sibling and he with me - but I guess each to their own.
What does this book do for me and potentially others?
Hey... don't get me wrong this does make for an interesting read. I personally love finding out about different perspectives on life in China and this certainly is one. Adeline Yen Mah has re written her story "Falling Leaves" and the book is also known as "Chinese Cinderella" although this particular version is geared towards a younger audience but in essence tells the same story.
There is so much positive feedback for these books. Especially amongst the younger generations who've read Chinese Cinderella. Adeline really does touch a nerve with her tales and rightly so I guess. Her place in time and history is irrifutabile. The positive outcome of her life is remarkable and her continued Joie de vivre in the face of remarkable adversity is truly unique. The story is life enhancing and I guess this is a great quality to be able to write about. Her tale is definitely appealing to the younger rgeneration, specifically as to why segregation is so awkward and yet essential.
This book occupied me for little over
This book passed the time for a few evenings. I enjoyed it, it helped me to sleep, particularly when heavy Chinese history became the narrative. It also enabled me a certain level of escapism and gratefulness. I am no MD but my parents are cool and my siblings also. I'd have hated to grow up in this world. I have enormous respect for the Chinese culture and Adelines' version makes me glad that I can study rather than participate in all that she witnessed
Find out more
Adeline Yen Mah is easily found if googles and her website gives great further insights. I found the website really interesting as not only did it have photos of both father and Adeline but we also findf real insight into her success. She had truly milked her plight for all it's worth.
You go Girl!!!
Paperback - 288 pages
Publisher - Penguin
Language - English
:: Introduction ::
I've picked up this title from a charity shop this summer as I was drawn to the sub title of the book: The True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter'. I'm no sucker for hard childhood stories (on the contrary, there seem to be too many around nowadays) nevertheless I do pick one or two up occasionally for some inspiration and insight into others' lives and sometimes harrowing experiences.
:: About the author ::
Adeline Yen Mah is a doctor who lives in America. Falling Leaves is her first autobiographical novel.
:: The plot ::
Falling Leaves spans an impressive 60 years of Adeline and her family's life story starting in 1930's China when and before she
is born. We are given an insight into the traditional structure of Chinese families and the country's politics as well as detailed account of her life in the family as the youngest daughter of a prosprerous businessman. Her mother dies shortly after giving birth to her. This sudden event in the family set-up changes the little girl's life forever. How will she adapt to her new guilt-ridden life - she was thought to bring bad luck to the family - amongst a host of more favourable siblings and the cruel nature of her stepmother?
:: Characterisation ::
A modern Chinese Cinderella story? In a way it is and much more. We get everything from Adeline's perspective and this makes all other characters somewhat black and white and do not really evolve. She is indeed a stubborn little girl who will not compromise and stays loyal to the values her 'Grand Aunt', a financially independent woman ahead of her time, instilled in her. I did identify with her deeply in aspects such as her perseverance in wanting to have a 'normal' family life and not giving in to blackmail and family intrique. Similarly, I also admired her ambition and strength given that without these traits her being born a daughter and being emotionally neglegted and phychologically abused in pre-War China would have been too much to bear.
:: Reading experience ::
Although the book is very moving to read, at one point towards the end it started to irritate me. It may be a cultural thing or her
upbringing but the adult Adeline who has now a wealth of experience with different cultures and different people, not just her family, seemed to intently focus on her family's money (inheritance that she couldn't get her hands on) while all the time claiming that she was only craving her emotional approval. Being permanently stuck in the want for acceptance by her step-mother was only making things worse and I thought the reason why was partly down to her not letting go. Or was it that she was just so emotionally crippled that she was actually unaware of its devastating effect on her?
:: Conclusion ::
Overall, I liked the book and I can say it's been one of the few books this year that did have a profound effect on me. To sum up, her rich and complex writing style ensured that it kept me engaged for hours to come and I would not want to put it down. A monumental, thought-provoking and sometimes tear-jerking one-man journey of a novel.
:: Price / where to buy ::
Amazon: Used and new from 1p
Thanks for reading.
©powered by lillybee also posted on Ciao! UK
This will not be one of my mammoth opinions. Not because there isn't much to say about Adeline Yen Mah's FALLING LEAVES, but because the outline of the book, and indeed its theme and style, is describable in a nutshell... the rest, I'm afraid, can be lived only by actually reading the book. So off we go. FALLING LEAVES is a modern classic, one of those books that have to be read sooner or later, if for nothing else to be able to judge for oneself what the fuss is all about. It is the true story of a Chinese girl, born to a well-to-do Chinese family in pre-Communist China, who grows up through her childhood, adolescence and pre-adulthood in the successive regimes of Communism, the international settlements in Shanghai and World War II, the exile in Hong Kong and successively in America, and the hesitant return to a newly-opening-up China. However, the political upheavals are merely the backdrop to this story. What Yen Mah is aching to tell is HER story, that of the fifth-born daughter who is believed to bring bad luck since her mother died giving birth to her. Her first few blissful years come to an end when her father marries Niang (step-mother), who from the start to the bitter end systematically neglects and emotionally tortures her step-children, with a sadistic predilection for Adeline, all the while blatantly preferring to them her two "real" children. The first part of the book relates the lonely and loveless childhood of Adeline, scorned not only by Niang and, through neglect, by her father, but also by her elder brothers and sisters, and by her two younger step-brother/sister. Her childhood is a roller-coaster of taunting, deliberate cruelty (albeit not physical) and character mutilation. Her only anchors of strength are her grandfather (who later dies) and her great-aunt Baba. Even her pet bird, to whom she gets immeasurably attached, becomes a victim of Niang's obsessive hatred of the girl.
The second part of the book covers Adeline's youth and middle age, from her medical studies in America ? where she gets her first whiff of freedom from The Family - to her three successive internships in different hospitals and different countries, her first doomed marriage to Byron, born of inexperience and naivete, her secrete liaison with a professor, and her second blissful marriage to Bob. All the while, even from afar, The Family makes its presence felt, in ever more subtle ways, insinuating its divisive influence into Adeline's adult life, and ending with Niang's final masterful manipulation of all her children. FALLING LEAVES is not the kind of book I would usually opt for. The have-your-hanky-at-hand sob-stories are not my first choice, especially if they are true stories. (Yes, I confess - I know biographies are all the rage, but I'm afraid they're just not my cup of tea.) And as I mentioned above, what got me going on it was (apart from the constant nagging of friends who'd read it...) the morbid curiosity that the sated look of its readers aroused in me. What was attracting such diverse readers to this book? Was there anything beneath the word-of-mouth phenomenon that has made this book's fame? I was surprised, though. I tried to hate this book... honestly I did! I smugly hoped I'd be able to write an op for dooyoo saying what utter crap this book was, yet another example of over-hyped sensational writing. Alas, I could not. I did not manage to hate it. On the contrary, like a persistent infection it grew on me the more I tried to shake it off. I read it in my spare time, between other reads, hoping the casualness of my reading and the span of time between reads would aid disinterest. To no avail. I actually liked it. It wouldn't be my choice for Book of the Year, granted, but still it made for compulsive reading. And what better could you ask of a book, at the end of the d
ay? Yen Mah's writing comes from the heart, its genuineness is felt with every word. While not being a story of outright violence and deprivation, it is a compelling story of emotional deprivation (perhaps even more damaging to a young defenceless child) and utter loneliness. No wonder the children's version of this book is called "Chinese Cinderella". Read it whenever you have some spare time between books. It's a worthwhile read. *** FALLING LEAVES is available in paperback from Penguin, in their Essential Asia series.
Falling Leaves is a true story. It combines the heartrending story of Adeline Yen Mah and how she fought family rejection, with the history of China and the Communist Revolution. The story is at times painful to read and you can feel the difficulty the author had in actually writing it. The deep feelings towards her family and her need for acceptance and love are apparent right through the book. Adeline was the fifth youngest daughter of a Chinese family living in Jiangjin. A lowly position in the best of circumstances. Her mother died giving birth to her and according to Chinese tradition this made her 'bad luck'. Adeline's father remarried a very young half French woman who was to control her father and the family money. Distinctions were made between Niang's children (the name for step-mother) and Adeline and her siblings. They were kept in secret in the family house and hidden away when there were visitors. The little girl was at the bottom of the heap. Physically abused by older brothers and constantly humiliated. One particular incident from the book that stuck in my mind and demonstrates the emotional pain the child was put through is related below. The family dog, Jackie, had been receiving training lessons. Adeline's father wanted to test out Jackie's new skills. Adeline's pet duckling was brought out onto the lawn and Jackie was ordered to sit. He did for a second and then grabbed the tiny creature in his huge mouth and began tearing at it. The duckling's leg was ripped off. Adeline spent the night cradling the tiny creature in her scarf until it died. The tiny bird had been her closest companion and the only thing she could love. After discovering that Aunt Baba had been giving Adeline little treats, Niang decided that the child was wicked, badly behaved and demanding and should be sent away to an orphanage. Adeline's only allies were Ye Ye, her beloved Grandfather
and Aunt Baba. Ye Ye had no power after his money was signed over to his son and Niang got control of it. Adeline was sent to an orphanage come boarding school and forgotten about. Strict instructions were given to the Nuns who ran the school. She was to recieve no letters or visitors and may not leave the confines of the school to visit friends. When her parents moved to Hong Kong she was rescued by Niang's sister and taken out of China to Hong Hong. Again she was packed off to boarding school. Eventually Adeline was sent to England to study obstetrics. She was faced with racial prejudice, patronization and taunting because of her high grades. She was not daunted and ended up qualified as a doctor. Her Aunt Baba's belief in her ability was what got her through all the problems of her tormented childhood. She ended up as a doctor, living in USA and married to Bob. I have only touched on the surface of the emotions involved in this book. It's true, it's painful and it will stay with you long after you have stopped reading. The pain of constant emotional abuse jumps at you in every chapter.
This is the true story of a chinese girl who was unloeved by her family. The youngest of five and in the unenviable position of being a female in China, she was blamed for her mother's death in childbirth. Her father married again and had two children by his second wife. these children were treated with love and tenderness while the children from the first marriage were kept at a distance, especially the youngest, Adelaine. The "wicked" step-mother hated her and had her sent away to a boarding school where she did extremely well. It was only when she won a top prize in a writing competition that her father noticed her. After a lot of begging he allowed her to come to Britain where she studied to be a gynaecologist. She eventually married and settled in the USA. It was only after her death that this book was allowed to be published. She also published "A Chinese Cinderella", an detailedaccount of her life as a child up to the time she was allowed to go to University. It is aimed at younger readers.
This is a true account of the author’s ordeals to overcome the appalling emotional rejections and turmoil by her parents during her growing years in China and then Hong Kong. All circumstances that she was in were against her during the early 40s up to the 50s, especially because she was born as a girl and her mother died when giving birth to her. She was deprived from every aspect of life, and not given the right of everything since birth. But, with only the determination and will power she possessed, Adeline fought her way up and became an excellent doctor in US, with a happy marriage. It is a fascinating, heart-rending autobiography, which gives an element of historical background and insight of China/Hong Kong. The way Adeline pictures her story is so evocative, as well as thought provoking, that towards the end of it, you will be deeply moved to the very core of your being. Although it is a brilliant book, I must say that the flow of the story was not very well planned. At times, it keeps bouncing back and forth from one period to another. It concentrates a lot on her sufferings and backstabbing among her siblings (especially regarding the wills of both her father and stepmother) that Adeline forgets to ‘synchronise’ the historical events to that of her personal affairs. Some parts are just too brief and no conclusions are made. Nevertheless, it is a great book to read at an affordable price.
This book is about the life of the authour Adeline Yen Mah. She was born in China to a well to do family but because her mother died shortly after giving birth to her, she has to go through life shouldering the blame as if she brought bad luck to the family. The book tells of her family, her struggles/experiences through school and then through university in England and finally as a working woman (incidentally, she is now a doctor) in America. Despite her mistreatment/misfortune, there were happy times in her childhood and adult life all told in a fair manner. After reading the book, I admire how she still manages to go through her life without any grudge to her family who right to the very end still 'cheated' her. Overall, this is a good book to read although sometimes it gets a little too much to bare (can be a little 'self-pitying' at times).