Ding Dong, the witch is dead! The tale of the Evil Stepmother and her hated Cinderella Step Daughter is alive & well in this memoir of growing up wealthy but unloved in mid 20th century China & Hong Kong. After her mother dies giving birth to her, Adeline - the youngest of several brothers & a sister - is considered unlucky and disposable. When her beloved father then falls under the sway of a young, half-French hottie - gorgeous but obviously mentally tweaked - tale after tale of woe ensue for young Adeline and her clan at the hands of dad's new wife. At the very least, visiting with this mega-rich but scheming, screwed up family will make you feel better about the state of your own dysfunctional fam, however, after a certain point, I felt like I was eavesdropping on a therapist's couch & had stayed for one session too many.
This story, while an entertaining, really confused me. Unlike âMemoirs of a Geishaâ or âA Boy Called Itâ, her childhood seems to lack substantial suffering. I find it hard to commiserate with her when her main grievances appear to be that she did not get money to ride the bus and that she had old clothes. While her Stepmother is a world class witch worthy of a starring role in the most cold and heartless Disney tales, I wouldn't say that her story is all that different from many others living with overbearing mothers. She is given a great education in China and in Europe. She spends much of her childhood in boarding schools. Although obviously uncared for, she wasn't locked in a closet lacking in anything but love. Her Stepmother plays favorites and plays the children against each other, but you have to wonder why the author keeps setting herself up for the horrible heartbreak. She just keeps coming back for more even when she HAS distanced herself and become a success in her own right. Really, a good read, but not exactly what I had in mind when I picked it up.
This book was not nearly as good as Memoirs of a Geisha and others. I found this book very hard to get into. While there was the occasional "OMG" moment, for the most part it's not a book I will likely even remember the title of by next week.
As a survivor of abuse, it was interesting to learn that the dynamics are the same regardless of culture. The author had an authentic voice without self-pity. I was proud of her for her fortitude and ability to grow from her experience.
Linda C. reviewed Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter on
Helpful Score: 2
Set against the backdrop of a fascinating period of Chinese history, Adeline Yen Mah relates the story of growing up in an abusive family. While the background was interesting, I would have preferred less history and more story.
I was shocked by reading Adeline's childhood and the cruelty she was subjected to. Adeline made several bad choices throughout her life. It was hard for me to understand why she kept trying life-long to please someone who was a backstabber and entirely cruel. Perhaps this was partly cultural and partly her personality. The way this family treated each other made me very sad. But overall, a worthwhile read.
reading this book was a lot like visiting robben island in cape town - i kinda got the feeling that i was getting the pg version of events.
part of me can understand how a 17 year old woman would have a difficult time marrying a man with 5 children. and i can also understand how she would love her 2 biological children more than her 5 step children. what i don't understand is where her level of cruelty comes from. and why the father actually condoned the behavior.
though it was a bit disturbing to read, i am very happy that i have read this book.
I could not put this book down. Brilliant story of how one woman overcame numerous obstacles to find her place in the world. Empowering and inspirational as well as educational. I learned quite a bit about China and its history. Recommend to anyone who enjoys true accounts of the strength of the human spirit.
I read "Chinese Cinderella," which is the young adult version of "Falling Leaves." I was glad to read that this book went farther than CC. What I couldn't understand was Adeline's actions toward her other siblings. She was basically shunned and used by most of them, especially her sister Lydia, who was disowned by the family because she moved back to China with her husband. Adeline's brothers told her not to get involved because Niang (the step-mother) didn't approve, but she helped her sister financially. What she didn't expect was Lydia was always in constant contact with Niang through letters, feeding Niang lies about Adeline. SPOILER ALERT ... What I couldn't understand, why didn't Adeline contest her father's first will? Niang managed to "rewrite" Joseph's will, giving everything to herself and then telling the siblings that Joseph was backrupt when, in fact, he was worth $30 million. Adeline and her husband, Bob, found it in Niang's apartment after her death. Instead, she went to confront her (favorite) brother James about the situation. But he happened to be in the middle of celebrating (with his other siblings, including Lydia) that they managed to pull the wool over Adeline's eyes. Niang's will gave James 50%, the other two brothers each got 20%, and Lydia received 10% of their father's/Niang's money. It was NEVER about money for Adeline. It was more about WHY she was treated the way she was. She did get redemption through this discovered will and realized her father did love her. He also stood by her decision to disown Lydia. I seriously hope that Adeline has had no more contact with her siblings since Niang died in 1988. I got the impression that most of them really needed the money but Adeline never did. Thank goodness for Bob, who is her rock. Hopefully he has managed to keep Adeline's head on straight. In my mind, I know that Susan, the biological daughter of Niang and Joseph who was disowned due to Niang's jealousy, and Adeline are keeping in touch and have basically turned the tables by disowning and shunning their siblings.
This book gives a fascinating look into traditional Chinese values an show those values are affected by the Communist takeover of China. The story depicts a dysfunctional family trying to live within its cultural boundaries.
I wax caught up with the character's struggles and hated for the story to end.
booktermite reviewed Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter on
Helpful Score: 1
This book is one of my favorites (I have read many books, and only a handful I call favorites). It relates--as the title tells--the story of a chinese girl growing up in a society that favored boys, and in a family that considered her a burden and a curse (as her mother died at childbirth). It is an autobiography, narrated in a beautiful style that really pulls you into the story. It tells the amazing story of how this child endured so much suffering and overcame so many obstacles... I don't want to tell too much, but it is really worth reading.
The author not only tells the story of her childhood and growing up, she tells much about life in China as well. I found the author so very touching as she tried her whole life to please her parents who failed her.
Erika M. (hrherika) reviewed Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter on
Helpful Score: 1
This is a fantastic book about the cruelty shown to Chinese daughters. This is a wonderful, historically accurate book. It is not a feel good book however. This book got to me emotionally, like not many books before it. A MUST read!
What a mesmerizing biography of a young unwanted Chinese girl who through the love and encouragement of her aunt, was able to rise above the neglect and despair her wealthy parents heaped upon her. Alternate title is appropriately named Chinese Cinderella.
This is a memoir about a wonderful little girl who has to live life with the fact that her own family does not love her. It exposes her struggles and yearning to be excepted. A wonderful book that also lets you in on a little bit of chinese culture.
The author's fascinating story is set amidst the backdrop of Chinese history. She blends the story of the incredible emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse she and her siblings suffered at the hands of her step-mother and father, with the political upheavals that swept China starting with WWII.
Jennifer D. reviewed Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter on
Helpful Score: 1
Found this book hard to put down. It was emotionally gripping. I appreciated that the author gave such a detailed historical background. I recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about other cultures.
Falling Leaves was EXCELLENT. I've actually used some of the mini-stories in the autobiography in my own writing and have been in touch with the author. She currently runs several educational tools to help westerners to be able to truly understand the beauty of the Chinese language. Her tough past obviously strengthened her character and resolve. I highly recommend this book.
Marci S. (MarciNYC) reviewed Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter on
Helpful Score: 1
This is basically the same book as 'Chinese Cinderella', also written by Mah but for a Young Adult audience. 'Falling Leaves' is a bit more in-depth and I am still amazed at how Mah triumped over such adversity to become a sucess. It's worth reading for the insight into the events in China/Hong Kong during the 20th Century.
One passage which struck me was from when Mah went back to Shanghai to visit her dying Aunt Baba. Aunt Baba says, "The way I see it, the nineteenth century was a British century. The twentieth century is an American century. I predict that the twenty-first century will be a Chinese century. The pendulum of history will swing from the ying ashes brought by the Cultural Revolution to the yang phoenix arising from its wreckage."
It's obvious these days that changes are happening in China -- perhaps Aunt Baba is right and the 21st century will belong to China.
Beautiful story, her story was hard to hear, but well written. The book also touches nicely on the Chinese history during her life time.
I enjoyed the way it was beautifully versed with insertions of Chinese proverbs.
This is a fascinating read. While there were confusing parts, I personally found it fascinating because of a personal family connection to China. There is a lot of Chinese history in the book and it provides excellent insight into Chinese culture and family life.
I was unable to put this book down. The story is riveting. It gives a very good background of China from the early 1900's to present. It is about a girl in a family of 7 children who was not shown love from her parents. The family dynamics are fascinating and her triumphs despite her upbringing are redeeming.
Incredible book, really enjoyed it. Gave a lot of background history of China, but it wasn't dry or difficult to follow. Her childhood was at once fascinating and distubring. Really made me feel fortunate to have had parents that loved and wanted me, and appreciate all she had been through to become a successful woman.
This was suggested at our book club but it was not selected, though I read it anyway and I would have loved to chat about it with my friends. Great book club read!
I first became acquainted with this story through her autobiographical book for young people. After reading it, I wanted to hear the rest of the story. I greatly enjoyed this book. It's more than just a sad story of a little girl forced to grow up in an abusive, dysfunctional family. It's set against the backdrop of the political struggles of China and Hong Kong during the twentieth century.
Some of the family dynamics didn't always make sense to me, but I attributed that to not being knowledgeable about Chinese culture. However, the author does give the reader some tidbits here and there about her culture. I especially liked where her grandfather lovingly explains to her the rich symbolism present in every Chinese character.
This account of neglect and mistreatment has underlying tones of determination and endurance. Adeline Yen Mah's childhood was filled with emotional abuse not only from her mean-spirited and materialistic step-mother, but also from her wealthy father who adopted his wife's attitude toward his youngest and brightest daughter. Adeline was treated harshly because of her lowly position in her society: she was a female and she was the youngest. She had the love of her deceased mother's sister and aunt as well as her paternal grandfather, which enabled her to excel academically. In adulthood she emigrated to the US to practice medicine, but the ghosts of her upbringing followed, and her familial obligations continued to deliver betrayal and difficulty across the miles into her adult life. This strong determined woman learned to overcome the horrendous abuse of her childhood and rely only upon herself for success and happiness.
The best part about this book is seeing history happen through someone else's eyes. It's a personal story, but it's also a story about how the changes in society affected this family.
As other reviewers said, the family's treatment of each other is really extreme. However, it's great to see what someone who was dealt a terrible hand in life has been able to do to turn things around.
I couldn't put it down. Not only is the story unforgettably sad and compelling, but there was a lot of 20th century Chinese history that I was unaware of. I knew Mao made life hell for these poor people, but it was even worse than I thought.
This book goes through alot of the historical aspects of China while also telling the story of her childhood and growing up in a family that really didn't want her. I wouldn't have been able to handle growing up with this stepmother...no way!
Every Chinese descendant has skelatons in their closet. Sometimes they're better off left there. This author lived a life of privilege and luxury, whining all the while. Many more were not as fortuante as her. The Author's embitterment did benefit her via a sweet book deal. While it's easy to feel sorry for her, the "poor me theme" can only carry the book so far.
Snow White's stepmother looks like a pussycat compared to the monster under which Adeline Yen Mah suffered. The author's memoir of life in mainland China and--after the 1949 revolution--Hong Kong is a gruesome chronicle of nonstop emotional abuse from her wealthy father and his beautiful, cruel second wife. Chinese proverbs scattered throughout the text pithily covey the traditional world view that prompted Adeline's subservience. Had she not escaped to America, where she experienced a fulfilling medical career and a happy marriage, her story would be unbearable; instead, it's grimly fascinating: Falling Leaves is an Asian Mommie Dearest. --
From Publishers Weekly
Although the focus of this memoir is the author's struggle to be loved by a family that treated her cruelly, it is more notable for its portrait of the domestic affairs of an immensely wealthy, Westernized Chinese family in Shanghai as the city evolved under the harsh strictures of Mao and Deng. Yen Mah's father knew how to make money and survive, regardless of the regime in power. In addition to an assortment of profitable enterprises, he stashed away two tons of gold in a Swiss bank, and eventually the family fled to Hong Kong. But he was indifferent to his seven children and in the thrall of a second wife who makes Cinderella's stepmother seem angelic. His first wife, Yen Mah's mother, died at her birth, and the child, considered an ill omen, was treated with crushing severity. But she was encouraged by the love of an aunt and eventually made her way to the U.S., where she became a doctor, married happily and, ironically, was the one her father and stepmother turned to in their old age. In recounting this painful tale, Yen Mah's unadorned prose is powerful, her insights keen and her portrait of her family devastating.
i realized i've read this before. theres a lot of what i'd call extraneous technical stuff, particularly in the beginning then dispersed thru-out that kinda detracted from the story for me. i think i recall liking the book better the first time i read it. was a decent story.
This was hard to believe it was true, it seems so hard to grow up in a family as she did. It seemed like they were all really greedy at the end though, even the author. Her sister drove me insane through this story, but I just couldn't believe how some of these people acted toward their own family! It was very rewarding to see that she only grew stronger and make herself more successful from her experience, instead of just giving up... but at least she wasn't just killed or abandoned or something worse. She seems a lot better off than most of her family after all, and I'm glad she finally has a stable family of her own.
This is also registered on bookcrossing, and it has a different cover photo than what is pictured.