Falling Leaves: The True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter

Falling Leaves: The True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter

by Adeline Yen Mah, Adeline Yen Mah
4.2 105

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Falling Leaves: The True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah, Adeline Yen Mah

"Riveting. A marvel of memory. Poignant proof of the human will to endure." —Amy Tan.

"Brilliant, compelling, and unforgettable. A heart-rending modern day Cinderella story set against the turbulence of 20th century China. Autobiography at its best." —Nien Chang, author of Life and Death in Shanghai.

"Charged with emotion...A vivid portrait of the human capacity for meanness, malice—and love." —Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans.

"Fascinating and heart-rending stuff...a harrowing story of emotional cruelty." —The Times of London

International bestseller.

The emotionally wrenching yet ultimately uplifting memoir of a Chinese woman struggling to win the love and acceptance of her family.

In this compelling memoir that scaled bestseller lists in England, Australia, and Hong Kong, Adeline Yen Mah chronicles her painful childhood growing up in a wealthy yet abusive Chinese family. The unwanted daughter scorned by her family, young Adeline dreamed of freedom and independence, ultimately escaping to the West to launch a successful career in medicine.

When Adeline's mother died giving birth to her, she was deemed bad luck and ostracized by her family. Then her father took a beautiful Eurasian bride and Adeline soon fell victim to the wrath of her stepmother. Treated as a pariah, she was shuttled off to boarding schools, bullied by her siblings, and deprived of the beautiful clothes and things given to the rest of the family.

Moving from Shanghai and Hong Kong to London and the United States, Falling Leaves is an enthralling saga of aprosperous Chinese family set against a background of changing political times and the collision of East and West. Written in haunting prose, it evokes all the suspense and emotional force of a satisfying novel.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780613169295
Publisher: San Val
Publication date: 04/28/1999
Product dimensions: 5.36(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.01(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

ADELINE YEN MAH, a physician, is currently pursuing a career as a writer. She lives in Huntington  Beach, California; London; and Hong Kong.

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Falling Leaves 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 105 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!!! :)
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book came to me at a time in my life when I didn't know which direction to take. The title grabbed me and for two days straight I read her story. At times, empathizing with her because I felt some of the emotions she poured onto the page. Tears poured for her because no one deserves the pain she felt in her life... good read, really recomend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i dont know how to decribe how good this book is. it is fantastic and i dont know how ANYBODY could refuse to read it. adeline yen mah is beyond the best writer ever. she captures her childhood and explains how hard it was for her to grow up. if you havent read this book, READ IT. it will change your understanding of people who are less fortunate then you are, and how they live.
ClaireN More than 1 year ago
Strong, Independent, and Inspiring Book Since I am a Chinese Born American, I found this book to be inspiring and relatable. Seeing how Adeline kept going back to her family after long years of both physical and mental torture really made me connect to how strong her filial piety was. Since Chinese culture involves respecting the elders and having filial piety, it was understandable that she would go back to her family and father for praise and love, even though he showed the minimalist amount of affection up until his last years to live. A Chinese child, or Asian in general, usually always wants to impress and bring honor to the family. It's a constant struggle of stress and anxiety to make the best of yourself just to make your parents proud. Adeline worked through this and only gained little recognition from her father. This woman rose above all of the trash and hatred that revolved around her childhood and became a successful WOMAN doctor. This is incredible for her time since most women were subjected to subservience compared to the men. No this book is not just two hundred pages of complaining, it's a life long misery, achievement, and progression where the reader sees how this abused and tormented child rose above it all and became a successful person. Though her stepmother and other siblings never really changed their attitude towards her, she still took it head on and learned to be strong and to keep moving forward. This book really hit home for me and made me cry a couple of times. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I hope this is not a real story otherwise this author is hopeless. She wrote 300 pages complaining her life while she was already so much luckier than a lot of people, she had a wealthy background and she got a medical degree and a family, things can't be too bad if she treasured what she had. I kept reading hoping there would be a twist in the story but it ended up disappointing. This book is not simply a waste of time but it could be a bad influence on people.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
RebeccaScaglione More than 1 year ago
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beverly_D More than 1 year ago
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.
Melching More than 1 year ago
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.
NighTime_Reader More than 1 year ago
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.
teaira5 More than 1 year ago
The book overall was very good. Each event of her life was very descriptive and detailed. She told how she was young and treated poorly by her siblings and step mother, the hardships she’s been though over her life time. I would recommend this book to anyone seeking knowledge of a life very different from their own written by that person. This book gave me a better appreciation of my life. Although I’ve been though a lot by the age of three this woman has been through more by the time she was born an unwanted child. For readers everywhere this book should come as an interest.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
siwasaki15 More than 1 year ago
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.
cxs1501 More than 1 year ago
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.
A_G_D More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book! I enjoyed the fact that it was a real story although there were parts which I wished were only fiction. It's hard to imagine what this woman went through emotionally when she was a child and even as an adolescent. This is the memoir of a Chinese physician and author who lives here in the US and who shares with us the story of her life with its ups and many many downs. Losing her birth mother due to complications from her own birth she becomes the ostracized and the unwanted daughter of a very successful businessman and her stepmother who engages in complicated intrigues to turn all her stepchildren against each other. Her whole life, Adeline strives for the love and acceptance of her family but no matter how hard she tries and regardless of her achievements she only manages to attract more hatred and rejection. More than once she finds herself thrown into boarding schools that resemble orphanages in her parents' attempt to get rid of her forever. Somehow, she always manages to come back into their house for another round of insults and beatings. It's impressive how she manages in the end to built a good life for herself and find love so far far away from home and so far from those who worked so hard to deprive her from it. This is a sad but wonderful story and I admire her for her strength and determination to never give up on herself and her dreams! I highly recommend this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rachel_EHWR More than 1 year ago
We all know what its like to want our parents to love us. In Falling Leaves, Adeline Yen describes how she yearned for just that. Adeline was born to a highly affluent Chinese family just before World War II. During Adeline's birth, her mother died, leaving 5 children. Her father soon found a new wife, who the children called Niang, or other mother. After that marriage, Adeline's life became like that of Cinderella. She had to live at the mercy of Niang, who despised her. Falling Leaves is the incredible true story of Adeline Yen Mah who against all odds was able to become successful in spite of her childhood and constant abuse. The book is written extremely well. I read it in just one day. Tt managed to keep me engaged for 3 straight hours without pause. Each chapter recounts a different story, each one more touching than the next. Adeline Yen Mah's life was a hard one and I often found myself ready to tear up. In one chapter, she described how her closest brother watched as Niang took a beating to her without any expression. Afterward, her brother said to her "It is what it is. Let it be. Don't become attatched to people. They will always hurt you". I highly suggest this book! Readers of other Asian authors like Gail Tsukiama and Amy Tan will enjoy Falling Leaves for both its Asian style and memorable story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Adeline Yen Mah's memoir, Falling Leaves, is so full of detail, from the author's experiences as a child and adult to the setting. I felt like I traveled into the book and shadowed the author throughout the story. Her vivid language and dialog really helped me to visualize the scenes For example, whenever Niang is being horrible to someone, you feel bad because you can imagine a cruel person saying the dialog to you. Her words are so powerful; I felt happy when the future was actually looking bright for her and indignant when Niang found another way to make her life miserable. Her will to succeed against all odds is so strong and inspiring. She doesn't just write about her own unfortunate life, but also that of her siblings, showing that she cares about her family even if they don't care about her. Aunt Baba treats Adeline with an unconditional love hat all children should receive from their family. While no one else sees her worth, Aunt Baba encourages her and pushes her to succeed, saying that she'll have the best future out of all of her siblings. Her historical recount of China was detailed and interesting to read, not at all boring. The emotions portrayed in the memoir were astounding. The author wrote about her troubled past, but it did not feel like it was because she wanted pity, but because she wanted her story to be heard. Compared to Adeline Yen Mah's other novel for children, Chinese Cinderella, Falling Leaves was much more enjoyable. While Chinese Cinderella was a riveting tale about the author's childhood, it was not quite as powerful as her memoir for adults. Falling Leaves had more detail about the time period, experiences, and the author's own emotions. However, I recommend Chinese Cinderella if you enjoyed this memoir because it gives you more of an idea about where her life stemmed from.
LUVS2READ123 More than 1 year ago
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
jaaraki More than 1 year ago
Admittedly this is a well written book although occasionally a bit melodramatic. I suspect she exaggerated at times, such as when she talks about her older sister and stepmother but overall I enjoyed it. It contained much of the fascinating history of the Cultural Revolution and of her family and was hard to put down. It told the story of how Adeline and her siblings went to college in England and made her way into the world as a doctor. It also contained the mystery of the search for her father's will and the hatred among her siblings and stepmother. I find it amazing that she endured so many hardships throughout her life, even after she left China. Personally, I liked the book before Falling Leaves, Chinese Cinderella. However this book is interesting and captivating in it's own way. I liked the way she described her family's dysfunction and how she felt about it. She writes as good as any author, even if English wasn't her first language. However I think she may have portrayed her stepmother and her sister a bit harshly. Furthermore, she concentrates on the family she had not the family that she creates. She only mentions her children a few times, and talks mostly about her siblings and Niang. In my opinion I wish she had talked about her husband and children more. Moreover, it was a bit boring at times, like when she tries to explain the relationships between her and her siblings. Overall, this book is interesting but not spectacular. If you like this book I would recommend The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, Maximum Ride by James Patterson, Name Me Nobody by Louis Ann Yamanaka, The Devil's Arithmetic, and The Last Thing I Remember.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
fredforeverAB More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing book. I loved it. I truly felt the sadness of her. Her child hood was so sad, and her stepmom was terrible. I have also read the book "Chinese Cinderella" It is about her childhood. And clearly the user AHappyProudMom didnt read that book. And she doesnt understand the sadness she felt. She wasent whiny, that is actually what happened. Read "Chinese Cinderella" and it will be more clear about how hard she had it