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Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

A Heart and Gut Wrencher

This book provoked so many feelings! There were times you wanted to jump in and just wrap your arms around the author when she was a little girl. Then towards the end you start to feel anger and hatred towards those around her. This book is worth reading! There isn't mu...
This book provoked so many feelings! There were times you wanted to jump in and just wrap your arms around the author when she was a little girl. Then towards the end you start to feel anger and hatred towards those around her. This book is worth reading! There isn't much else to say. Read it!!! :)

posted by Anonymous on July 22, 2007

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Most Helpful Critical Review

4 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

Waa Waa Waa What a whinner!

I kept reading ... hoping it would get better. This woman has no idea how to appreciate what she has. She complains about how terrible her childhood was and I then presumed she would try her best to be a great mother. BUT she had so little to say about the joys of be...
I kept reading ... hoping it would get better. This woman has no idea how to appreciate what she has. She complains about how terrible her childhood was and I then presumed she would try her best to be a great mother. BUT she had so little to say about the joys of becoming a mother and then obviously with no lesson learned from her own childhood I am sure her children had the same miserable life. I wanted to smack her and say wake up. You are missing out on everything, get over it.

posted by AHappyProudMom on June 20, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2007

    A Heart and Gut Wrencher

    This book provoked so many feelings! There were times you wanted to jump in and just wrap your arms around the author when she was a little girl. Then towards the end you start to feel anger and hatred towards those around her. This book is worth reading! There isn't much else to say. Read it!!! :)

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 24, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I have been lucky enough to have a supportive family and husband

    I have been lucky enough to have a supportive family and husband who have helped me along the way to do what I want to do with my life. I cannot imagine being in a position like Adeline Yen Mah, who was bullied by her siblings and stepmother, with very few people in her life to help her succeed.

    Falling Leaves: The True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah is an International Bestseller, and I can see why.

    Falling Leaves is the true story of Adeline, the youngest of five children whose mother died while she was giving birth to Adeline. As the youngest, as a girl, and as the one who "killed" their mother, the siblings and her new stepmother, find her unappealing.

    Well, that's an understatement. Her new stepmother, who they call Niang, despises Adeline. She is the only child who will not bow to Niang's wishes as the ruler of the household. Niang is evil in general, a vicious, controlling woman who cares more about riches than about her family, which includes 2 children of her own (one of whom she loves, the other, not so much) and five stepchildren.

    I enjoyed Falling Leaves, but I have to say I was a little underwhelmed in the book until the ending. Adeline was unloved by her stepmother, yes, but so were most of the other siblings. Based on the title, I assumed that she was unloved because she was a girl in China, but most of the other kids were unloved as well.

    When I got to the ending of the book, I realized that Adeline was right. She was definitely the most unwanted out of her siblings, which is sad and depressing. But the ending had a high note as well, which of course I can't say since it would be a spoiler!

    The book was sad, but not too depressing. Adeline gave a good amount of her family history as well as the history of China and its descent into Communism. She was unwanted, but still cared for. Yes, she was made to walk to and from school long distances, given old-fashioned clothing, and made to be alone and neglected at her boarding school, but she was sent to prestigious boarding schools, given food to eat, etc.

    But Adeline is gullible. Sooooooo gullible. Any time that her father, Niang, or another sibling would be nice to her, Adeline would bend over backwards to please them. I felt bad for her in those situations. Unfortunately, she believed too much in the good of her family members that it hurt her a lot in the process, and it hurt me to read about it.

    However, this gullibility also makes her a caring, compassionate woman who wants what is best for herself and her family. She has overcome neglect and hardship in her life to become a successful doctor and author.

    What is something in life that you have overcome?

    Thanks for reading,

    Rebecca @ Love at First Book

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  • Posted June 24, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    The cover picture here, says it all - a shy little girl left on

    The cover picture here, says it all - a shy little girl left on the edges, peeking in. In 1937 Shanghai, Adeline's birth resulted in her mother's death. You may have heard that the Chinese are not real "big" on girl children anyway, and Adeline (Jun-ling) was the fifth child, second daughter.

    I found the book fascinating - the look at pre-Communist China, at Grand Aunt who founded the Shanghai Women's Bank in 1924, at the interweaving of Chinese and British culture, at the intimate view of the Communist takeover. The Chinese characters and their literal translations (Yuan Mu Qiu Yu - Climbing a Tree to Seek for Fish) are wonderful. Treated badly by her elegant Eurasian stepmother (shades of Cinderella), emotionally abandoned by her father, Adeline is still determined to succeed, and she does. She received a medical degree in the UK, and later came to America where she became a citizen and an anesthesiologist, still with ties to both mainland China and to Hong Kong.

    She is honest about the mistakes she makes; accepting the job her father thinks she should have, instead of the one she wants; marrying a man who turns out the be abusive. It is always easy in hindsight to see what the "right" choice should have been; so hard to escape childhood conditioning and habits of obedience. At times the tone is a bit whiny and self-indulgent. Yet in the end, Adeline does rescue herself, and her siblings are not (all) the monsters one might expect from their upbringing.

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  • Posted May 16, 2012

    Falling leaves by Adeline Yen Mah is a wonderful book and you mu

    Falling leaves by Adeline Yen Mah is a wonderful book and you must read it. The beginning is boring, giving you the history of China, but it gives you an idea of the problems that were going on in China while Adeline was growing up. There is quite a bit of Chinese history in this book, but it is necessary in the book because it helps you to understand why her father had to run away, move, change businesses, and many other scenarios like this. These parts to me were a bit boring and I skimmed over these parts. In order to really get her father's business ordeals, you must read through the history parts carefully because it explains to you the oppression and control that is put on China by the Communists and the foreign invaders. Once you get past the beginning history of this book, it's captivating. It's kind of slow in the beginning, but you get drawn in once the mother passes away. Then, everything starts going downhill for Adeline and you don't want to put down the book because you want to see if things will get better for her or what her family will do to her next. To me, the way her family acted seemed unrealistic, but I guess that just makes you realize how horrible the things she went through were. Even though it sounds as if she is making up parts of the books, it's a memoir and I have to get used to the fact that all these horrible things are real. I can't believe that her father would be that controlling and mean to his own father. His father is the one who should have control over him, but instead it is the other way around and to me, that is crazy. It was also infuriating to read the ending parts with James in them. Adeline had said that she was closest to James when she was little, but the end chapters showed us how wrong she was. The way he told everyone to just let things go was almost impossible to read. The way he just went along with Niang against Adeline and her brothers was unbearable. There are some scenes with their dad that make you feel as if there is hope for Adeline. But once Niang comes back from where ever she is, the moment is ruined and you feel like pushing her out of the room. The way their father withers away and shrinks away from his family makes you wonder why he doesn't just break up with her and there aren't any hints of why he stays with her. Sometimes he was so nice to Adeline that you thought things could change, but other times he was like James and didn't have a backbone. I also don't get how he can love his stepchildren more than his own. Adeline's naiveness is also sad. She yearns for so much love that she goes through anything to be with her family when they need her, even though they have screwed her over so many times. She still goes back to them, even after her unbearable childhood with them and the bipolar relationships she has with them. This book was written in a really simple way and it was an easy to read book. There weren't any big words that I had to assume the reading of, but there were a few words that were spelled weirdly. One was percent and it was spelled per cent. I don't know why she did this, but the word popped up that way throughout the whole book. I am glad that I had to read this for an outside requirement because it turned out to be a fantastic book. I like the way that Adeline makes you feel all of the emotions that she feels and I think that adds a ton to the book. I would recommend this book to anyone who just wants something to read.

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  • Posted May 13, 2012

    Highly Recommend

    Adeline Yen Mah has presented to the world, I believe her most enduring work, an autobiography no less, the plot centers around young Adeline who is regarded as the bad luck child due to her mother’s passing after her birth. Her father (who is known as a wealthy businessman) to her misfortune remarries Jenna Prospderi a beautiful Eurasian who later they call Niang. At the time of her father and stepmothers marriage life remains unchanged but things turn for the worst when Adeline's grandmother passes away leaving the Yen family under the ruthless authority of Niang. Soon after segregation and mistreatment is apparent in the household. The children, Aunt Baba (surrogate mother to the children) and Grandfather YeYe are condemned to stay at the 1st floor and left to eat trivial food while Niang and her children: Favorite Son Franklin and Beautiful Susan dwell what they refer to as the Royals Quarters. Unfortunately Adeline is not only neglected by her father and Niang but by her siblings Lydia, Edgar, Gregory and her best brother James fall in to the motion of tormenting her. With the aid of her nurturing Aunt Baba, Adeline is determined that the only way to improve her future was to achieve in her studies. This goal however was a perilous journey filled with abandonment, deprivation from a happy childhood and at the constant whim of her Niang. Due to her achievements in school her father sent her to England's Rye St Anthony catholic boarding school in Oxford, she soon transferred to University College Bloomsbury. There Adeline experienced true happiness and freedom; she as well began a budding romance with her Professor Karl Decker. However this happiness was not to last, in the end the relationship had died. After her graduation and internship she later passed her boards in internal medicine becoming a MRCP (Member of the Royal College of Physicians) in 1963 she leaves England for Hong Kong. Soon after arriving in Honk Kong,her life once again was overshadowed by Niangs authority to avoid a repetition of anguish she leaves to the United States, where she meets and marries a man by the names of Bryon, right after domestic problems begin to emerge between the couple a divorce was the last resort. By this point Adeline is finally well established with her baby boy Roger, but still must deal with the ever present severing family issues. This autobiography I can quote as a vividly written novel that not only provokes emotions but enacts the reader to appreciate their life circumstances and question his or her future Can I change for the better? How strong of an influence do the people have around me? Will I leave a mark on the world? All these thoughts were present in my mind because I truly felt engrossed in the story. Would I recommend this book to anyone? Yes, I would recommend but I believe this book would do some good to those who are down in hopes and esteem It’s the type of book that leaves you a bit more hopeful and self-aware of child abuse and neglect.

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  • Posted October 18, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Falling Leaves

    I really liked this book, but I had some problems with it. At first, I didn't get what was going on and it was very confusing. The time in this book is very confusing. She jumps back and forth between past and present and sometimes I can't tell if it's in the past or the present. Also, the beginning was boring and it took me forever to read. After around 50 pages the book started getting interesting. If you are a teenager some of the words may be challenging. The imagery is very detailed and descriptive that sometimes I would feel as though I were in her shoes. Every sad moment I felt like I wanted to cry. It made me realize that my life isn't bad and that I should be grateful that I have parents who love and take care of me. I really like how she put Chinese quotes as the chapter title and tied it into the story. It amazes me how she got through all her hardships and became her own person without having to rely on her family. Overall, I liked the story, but I wish that she stood up to them or cut ties with them after everything they put her through. If she knew she was going to get hurt, why stay with them? This book has made me realize what it means to be unloved, and how unbearable it can be. Adeline's childhood was filled with hate and loneliness, but in the end she finds people who love her for her. This book was a very well written book and I would absolutely recommend it.

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  • Posted October 18, 2011

    So Sad!

    The memoir Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah is a touching story about a young Chinese girl's abusive childhood. This book was amazingly sad and my heart went out to Mah as I was reading it. She not only survived throughout the abuse and neglect from nearly her entire family, but she also succeeded immensely in adulthood. She is the Cinderella of China. I loved the detailed descriptions in the book. Nearly all the scenes were very imaginable. I liked how Mah includes many different aspects of writing, from her second happy marriage, to the suspense about her father's will. However, the beginning is a little boring, what with all the history about China and such. Some of the history is also a little unexplained and confusing and left me with many questions, but they were answered at the end.
    Falling Leaves was very well written. It had lots of details descriptions about everyone in her family, especially her abusive stepmother, Niang. The images of pain Niang caused Mah throughout the book were very concrete and detailed. I could feel myself flinching with every slap or verbal abuse thrown at her, and I know I said the word "aw" multiple times while reading it. Mah made it very easy to understand the hurt of pain, rejection, and humiliation she endured nearly her whole life, even in adulthood.
    Adeline Yen Mah is an incredibly strong woman. If I had gone through what she did, I don't think I would have survived. But Mah pushed through and never gave up, and I think her success in life and her well written book both deserve two thumbs up.

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  • Posted October 20, 2010

    How To Overcome Suffering

    Falling Leaves is the most encouraging, heartbreaking, tear-streaming book I've ever read. Adeline Yen Mah has shared her most painful memories in her book, Falling Leaves. She tells of her abandoned and abusive childhood, her shattered experiences at romance, and her on-going attempts to bring honor to her family. Falling Leaves is the sequel to Adeline's first, Chinese Cinderella. I would recommend both because without one, the other would be hard to make sense of. Chinese Cinderella tells of Adeline's life from her birth to age 14, and Falling Leaves tells of Adeline's family history and her entire life until both of her parents' deaths. In both of her memoirs, Adeline faces the tragedy of meeting a new stepmother who starts to treat her as an outcast and manipulates her father against her. She tolerates the discrimination between herself and her half siblings, as well as the physical and verbal abuse from her real siblings. But through all of the hurt, she continues to live her life with the support of her Aunt Baba and grandfather. The only peace that Adeline finds in her life is her extraordinary writing ability. Since she doesn't exactly have the perfect life, her imagination helps her create a world full of all her dreams and accomplishments that she molded into the stories she wrote. She never planned to reveal anything of her painful life, so she wrote of all types of characters that she imagined herself as, and lived through them. She wrote of female warriors, princesses, and all kinds of characters that resemble her personality. Falling Leaves tells of Adeline's many misfortunes in her life. Everything that happened to her, good or bad, molded her character into a wonderful, hard working individual. With all of the tragedies that Adeline endured, Falling Leaves had left me with the impression that all of those tragedies shaped Adeline's entire perspective on life and moral being. Just reading this book made me believe that anything is possible if you just put your mind to it and not let anything stop you. It felt good to read all that happened to her and see how much of a success she's become.

    -Arieta Augafa

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2010

    The Touching Story told by Adeline Yen Mah

    This book made me feel sorry for the main character Adeline, but I am also relieved that my stepmom does not treat me the same. I also felt as though I wanted to find a way to bring Adeline out of the book and escape all the misery. As I read Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah, I seriously wanted to punch Niang in the face. I thought that Adeline Yen Mah had great word choice to show how her step mother treated her so badly. In the part where Adeline is getting scolded for going to her friend's house, she recreated the memorable story of that event in her childhood in a way that made her mother sound so cruel. As she walks into her room to pretend that she has just come home from school and not from her friend's house, she comes face to face with her stepmother. I really liked how she used the words "face to face" this because I could picture it in my head. I can imagine if I walked into my room knowing I did something naughty and my mom was right their glaring at me. She would yell at me and I might actually start crying.
    I loved the story that Adeline told in Falling Leaves, but I do prefer the shorter version, Chinese Cinderella better and I think that it is a more reasonable choice for a reader my age. Basically, I thought that the sentences in this book were just extended sentences from Chinese Cinderella. Some of the words were difficult for me to understand on my own, and I had to ask my mother what they meant. For example, in the same part, when Adeline gets in trouble, she says, "the inquisition went on interminably." With my short vocabulary range, I looked at the word and thought, "WHAT?" In fact, my teacher ending up telling me the meaning to interminably. I found out that it means "on and on" or "endless." Overall, I think that this is touching story to read, but I recommend it for adults. If you're a teenager and would like to read this book, read Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent book, couldn't put it down.

    This was a beautifully written book and very educational from a historical standpoint as well. I love books about triumph against all odds and this definetly fits the bill. The only thing that I was a little disappointed in was that I really didn't feel that Adeline's stepmother got what was comming to her. I really wanted to see her suffer the way she made so many around her suffer. Does that make me a spiteful person? I don't know- but I'll bet I'm not the only one who feels this way.

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  • Posted March 19, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Adult images of a childhood not forgotten

    Adeline retells her story beautifully. This had to be a painful journey for her to take reliving her story in words to an unknown audience. The healing process and her will to endure and accomplish her goals is a "heads-up" to all that read her story. The only thing that would have helped this story was a small map of the areas in which she lived in China. This would have given a better prospective of her homeland

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2008

    Captivating memoir

    I read this book for a course about modern China. Not only was this story intriguing because it dealt with a Chinese girl growing up in Hong Kong and around the world (not on mainland China), but also because of Adeline¿s obsession with her father¿s approval. I was desperate to see her succeed I read the book in one night. A difficult and emotionally wrenching story, but one that is definitely worth the read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2005

    A memorable read!

    Emotional yet objective, this book shows a level of emotional suffereing that is inconceivable to most of us. Beautifully written this book will change you. Recommeneded reading!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2004

    Importance of Family

    Adeline was born into a family that did not want her. Her mother dies two weeks after she was born. Afterwards, her father then marries a seventeen year old beauty named Jeanne and treats her like a queen. All of the children's names were changed. Sadly, soon enough Adeline was sent away to school wishing for so much more than she had. The novel had a very big impact on me. In the beginning of the novel i was grasped in. I fell deep into the depressing words of Adeline. Her strive for a family that would love her made me want to read more. The suspense had me wondering what was going to happen next. As i read more, it got better and better. I did not dislike anything about this novel. I would not stop reading until i got to the end. This book was very heartwarming to me and made me think about how important my family is. It will make you think of your closest to you and what they are doing at that exact moment. In Conclusion I recommmend this book to anyone who enjoys reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2003

    Amazing Memoir!!

    I read this memoir as a part of a class and was instantly drawn into the story of Adeline Yen Mah. The hardships she faces with her family are so bitter and the memories so precise that you feel as if your sitting in the same room, eating dinner with the family. The feelings of rejection and anger are pushed and forced upon her as a little girl and the story of her life is extremely humbling.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2002

    Coming Full Circle and Healing

    It is amazing that Adeline suffered such opression and discrimination at the hands of her family. As a young woman she found in herself and by herself (although her Aunt would be the only person to nourish her emotionally) the strength to stand up to her unjust and myopic family. It is easy to see how her parent's example was taught and learnt well by her siblings and even upheld within society itself as being true--that her siblings would fare as they did. What is most astonishing is that Adeline did not share in their value system even though she was affected by it and overcame these tyrannies with her singleminded search for love and acceptance, even from the monsters who created her pain. The only reason for this is the universal need to be accepted by ones parents. Children seek approval from their parents even when they suffer at the hands of their parents all the while never acknowledging their own pain or putting it second to this need. Adeline even forgives her father with her adult understanding of the true reason of her mother's death because of his ignorance to her condition and exposing her to the infection that killed her. His ignorance and ego also allowed him to let a child take the blame and carry the weight of superstition with her. Falling Leaves is a great story about Adeline Yen Ma and how she uses her humanity and compassion to stand up to her family and to heal others and herself by becoming a physicain. A great true story!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2002

    Excellent book

    Falling Levaes is the memoir of Adeline Yen Mah, a woman that grew up in China in the 1930s and 40s. Her childhood is marked with abuse from nearly everyone in her family, from her siblings to her step-mother. Although Adeline studies in England to become a physician, her experiences with her family are not over. While the story of a child who must overcome abuse is not new to many readers, the backdrop of Communist China in the 20th century enhances this memoir. As a sucessful 'capitalist' family, they are affected by the communist takeover. Some of Adeline's only allies in her family affected the worst. However, this book achieves success not by showing how Adeline's family and communism interact, but by the comparison of these two systems. Backstabbing and forced confessions within the family allow the reader to understand Adeline's experiences and Communist China more thoroughly. I would reccommend this book for anyone who would appericiate a well written memoir of a woman's harsh childhood as well as anyone who would like to explore the impact of Communism on the Chinese people.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2001

    Falling Leaves Book Review

    Falling Leaves Book Review Main character Adeline Yen Mah was the youngest child of the Yen family, which prospered in a time of steep change in Chinese politics and culture. Despite the family¿s prosperity, Adeline faces emotional abuse from her overbearing stepmother. Determined to prevail in her horrid circumstances, Adeline moved from Hong Kong to England and the United States and obtained an education. Her stepmother Niang was her antagonist, while she got support from Aunt Baba, her brother James, and later in life, her husband, Bob. The author does a good job of drawing the reader into the work and especially writing such that the reader has sympathy for the main character. She shows Adeline¿s struggles, hardships, and unfair treatment faced in her childhood in extensive detail. Later in the story the author shows how Adeline prevails and the reader feels joyous of the accomplishments of the author. Although the story is touching and well written, the central conflict in the story is rather one-dimensional: Adeline is right and Niang is wrong. This conflict resides throughout the story, thus the book is lacking in that area. However, the story deploys the theme, ¿That which does not kill makes me stronger.¿ It shows the struggles of Adeline¿s childhood compared with her prosperous adult life. Her hardships made her appreciate life and motivated her to strive and change life for the better. Had she not experienced such a horrid childhood, perhaps her adulthood would not have been successful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2000

    The next best thing to the The Joy Luck Club

    If you enjoy reading Asian cultured novels, this book is a great pick. It will move you to tears. I could not imagine living in home with no affection. A classic Cinderella and wicked stepmother tale, each page brings amazement and sorrow for the young Adeline. It is a book you can recommend with confidence for every generation. Falling Leaves will bring a smile to your face in the end. Hope and Promise restored!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2000

    This is a very good book

    This is my first time reading this Chinese Aurthor's novel. It is really a good book to read. I would recommend this book to everyone.

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