Newest Review: ... 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 thro... more
"Each day passes like a Year"
Falling Leaves Return to Their Roots - Adeline Yen Mah
Member Name: catsholiday
Falling Leaves Return to Their Roots - Adeline Yen Mah
Advantages: A very moving life story
Disadvantages: Very sad and emotionally upsetting at times
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.
Summary: The story of an unwanted Chinese daughter
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