Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter

Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter

by Adeline Yen Mah, Adeline Yen Mah

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Overview

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

Born in 1937 in a port city a thousand miles north of Shanghai, Adeline Yen Mah was the youngest child of an affluent Chinese family who enjoyed rare privileges during a time of political and cultural upheaval. But wealth and position could not shield Adeline from a childhood of appalling emotional abuse at the hands of a cruel and manipulative stepmother. Determined to survive through her enduring faith in family unity, Adeline struggled for independence as she moved from Hong Kong to England and eventually to the United States to become a physician and writer.

A compelling, painful, and ultimately triumphant story of a girl's journey into adulthood, Adeline's story is a testament to the most basic of human needs: acceptance, love, and understanding. With a powerful voice that speaks of the harsh realities of growing up female in a family and society that kept girls in emotional chains, Falling Leaves is a work of heartfelt intimacy and a rare authentic portrait of twentieth-century China.

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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780767903578
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 04/28/1999
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 143,833
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.80(d)
Lexile: 950L (what's this?)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

ADELINE YEN MAH is a physician and writer who lives in Huntington Beach, California, and spends time as well in London and Hong Kong.

Read an Excerpt

Yi Chang Chun Meng: An Episode of a Spring Dream

My own memories of Tianjin are nebulous. Early photographs show a solemn little girl with clenched fists, pressed lips and serious eyes, dressed in pretty western frocks decorated with ribbons and bows. I enjoyed school and looked forward to going there. Lydia and I were pulled there and back daily in Grandmother's black, shiny rickshaw. It had a brass lamp on each side and a bell operable by foot. When I revisited Tianjin in 1987, I was surprised to find that it took only seven minutes to walk from our house to St Joseph's.

I remember Lydia as an imposing, rather intimidating figure. Between us there were three brothers and a gap of six and a half years. We were a world apart.

Lydia liked to exercise her authority and flex her muscles by quizzing me on my homework, especially catechism. Her favourite question was, 'Who made you?' To this, I always knew the answer. Like a parrot I would trot out the well worn phrase, 'God made met' then came the twister. A gleam came into her eyes. 'Why did God make you?' I never could answer because teacher never taught us beyond the first question. Lydia would then give me a resounding slap with her powerful right hand, and call me stupid. During our daily rickshaw rides, she liked to keep me waiting and was invariably late. On the rare occasions when I was delayed in class she simply rode the rickshaw home alone but would send the puller back to get me. She tended to be stocky, even as a child. Her physical deformity gave her a characteristic posture, with her semi-paralysed left arm hanging limply by her side and her face perpetually tilted slightly forwards and to the left. From my four-year-old perspective, she was a fearsome figure of authority.

My eldest brother Gregory had a sunny personality and the infectious ability to turn ordinary occasions into merry parties. His joie de vivre endeared him to many people. Being the eldest son in China meant that he was the favourite of Father as well as of our grandparents. I remember him, full of mischief, gazing with rapt fascination at a long, black hair blowing in and out of the right nostril of snoring Ye Ye one hot afternoon. Finally Gregory could no longer resist the temptation. Skilfully, he pinched the hair ever so tightly between his thumb and index finger during the next exhalation. There was a tantalizing pause. Ye Ye finally inhaled while Gregory doggedly hung on. The hair was wrenched from its root and Ye Ye awoke with a yell. Gregory was chased by Ye Ye brandishing a feather duster but managed, as usual, to escape.

On the whole, Gregory ignored James and me because we were too young to be interesting playmates. He was always surrounded by friends his own age. He did not enjoy studying but, like Grandmother, excelled in games of chance such as bridge. Good with numbers, he occasionally taught us younger ones neat mathematical tricks, roaring with laughter at his own cleverness.

Of all my siblings, it was Edgar I feared the most. He bullied James and me and used us as punchbags to vent his frustration. He ordered us around to perform his errands and grabbed our share of toys, candies, nuts, watermelon seeds and salted plums. He did not distinguish himself at school and was deeply insecure, though he possessed enough fortitude to maintain a passing grade.

My san ge (third elder brother) James was my hero and only friend. We used to play together for hours and developed a telepathic closeness, confiding to one another all our dreams and fears. With him, I could discard my vigilance and I needed that haven desperately. Throughout our childhood, it was immensely comforting to know that I could always turn to him for solace and understanding.

We were both Edgar's victims, though perhaps James suffered more because for many years he shared a room with our two eldest brothers. He hated to make waves. When pushed around, he endured the blows passively or hid from his tormentor. Seeing me being beaten by Edgar he would skulk quickly away in blinkered silence. Afterwards, when Edgar was gone, he would creep back and try to console me, often muttering his favorite phrase 'Suan le!' (Let it be!) . . .

Of Niang's two children, she openly favoured Franklin. In physical appearance he was the spitting image of Niang: a handsome boy with round eyes and a pert upturned nose. Susan at this stage was still a baby. But they were already special. I don't recall either Edgar or Lydia ever laying a finger on them. James and I were the ones singled out to do everyone's bidding. If we were not fast enough there was often a slap or a shove, especially from Edgar.

I always felt more comfortable with my friends at school than at home, where I was considered inferior and insignificant, partly because of the bad luck I had brought about by causing the death of my mother. I remember watching my older sister and brothers playing tag or skipping rope and longing to be included in their games. Although James and I were very dose, he went along with the others and became 'one of the boys' when they wished to preclude me.

At St Joseph's, marks were added together every Friday and the girl with the highest total received a silver medal which she could wear pinned on her breast pocket for the entire week. Father immediately noticed when I wore the medal. Those were the only times when he showed pride in me. Father would say teasingly, 'Something is so shiny on your dress. It's blinding me! Now what could it be?' or 'Isn't the left side of your chest heavier? Are you tilting?' I lapped up his words. Soon I was wearing the medal almost continuously. At prize-giving at the end of 1941 my name was mentioned for winning the scholarship medal for more weeks than any other student in the school. I remember my pride and triumph as I climbed up the steps, which were so high and steep that I had to go up on my hands and knees, to receive my award from the French monseigneur. There was warm applause and delighted laughter from the audience, but no one attended from my family, not even Father.

At the beginning of 1942 the Japanese were taking uncomfortably closer looks at Father's books, insisting on an exhaustive audit and finally demanding that his businesses be merged with a Japanese company. Father could remain nominally in charge but profits would be split 50/50. This 'offer' was, in fact, an order. Refusal would have resulted in confiscation of assets, probable jail for Father and unthinkable retaliation against the rest of the family. Acceptance meant open collaboration with the enemy, immediate loss of independence and possible reprisal from the underground resistance fighters.

After many sleepless nights, made worse by elaborate luncheons during the-day when the Japanese alternately cajoled and threatened, Father took a radical step. One cold day, he took a letter to the post office and never returned home.

Ye Ye carried on with this life-and-death charade for a few months. Those were chaotic days. Kidnappings, murders and disappearances were everyday events. He immediately went to the local police and reported his son missing. He placed advertisements in the newspapers offering a reward for knowledge of Father's whereabouts, alive or dead. It was a dramatic ruse and the price was high but ultimately it had the desired effect. Without Father at the helm, Joseph Yen & Company floundered. Many of the staff were laid off. Business dwindled. Profits plummeted. The Japanese soon lost interest.

Father, meanwhile, having managed to transfer part of his assets before his staged disappearance, made his way south to Japanese-occupied Shanghai under an assumed name, Yen Hong. He bought what was to become our family home on the Avenue Joffre. Soon afterwards he sent for Niang and Franklin, who travelled with a couple of trusted employees and joined him there.

For the rest of the family, stranded in Tianjin, life became oddly serene. Aunt Baba ran the household and encouraged us children to invite friends home to play and snack on various dim sums in a way Niang would never have tolerated. Mealtimes were informal and the adults talked and played mah-jong late into the evening. Ye Ye kept a skeleton staff in the office. By and large the Japanese left us alone. A chauffeur was hired and on Sundays we were driven to various restaurants to try out different cuisines, including Russian, French, and German. I remember drinking hot chocolate and eating pastries at the sparkling Kiessling Restaurant while a music trio played Strauss waltzes and Beethoven romances. Sometimes we were even taken to see suitable movies.

Father was keen that the rest of his family should join him in Shanghai. In the summer of 1942, Grandmother was persuaded to visit for two months but returned saying that Tianjin was now her home. She stubbornly refused to move and told Aunt Baba that the essence of life was not which city one lived in, but with whom one lived.

After dinner one stiflingly hot day, 2 July 1943, we were planning next day's menu with Cook. Aunt Baba suggested that we have Tianjin dumplings instead of rice. Freshly made with chives, ground pork and spring onions, these dumplings were a great favourite among us children. We were all shouting out ridiculously high numbers as to how many dumplings we could eat. Grandmother developed a headache from all the commotion. She went to her own room, lit a cigarette and lay down. Aunt Baba sat by her and narrated a story from The Legend of the Monkey King. Even though Grandmother knew many tales from the well-known Chinese classic, she found it relaxing to hear them told again and again by her daughter.

She removed the shoes, stockings and bindings from her tiny damaged feet before soaking them in warm water to relieve the constant ache, giving a sigh of contentment. Aunt Baba left her and was taking her own bath when Ye Ye hammered on the door. Grandmother was twitching, frothing at the mouth. Doctors were called but it was too late. Grandmother never regained consciousness. She died of a massive stroke.

I remember waking up in the sweltering heat of a Tianjin summer morning. Aunt Baba was sitting at her dressing table and crying. She told me that Grandmother had left this world and would never come back; her life had evaporated like yi chang chun meng (an episode of a spring dream). I recall the sound of cicadas humming in the background, while street-hawkers clicked wooden clappers to announce their presence, chanting their wares melodiously on the pavement below: 'Hot beef noodles. Stinky bean curd. Fresh pot stickers.' I wondered how it was possible that life could go on being so much the same when Grandmother was no longer with us.

Grandmother's body was placed in a coffin in the living-room. Her photograph sat on top and the coffin was elaborately decorated with white flowers, candles, fruits and banners of white silk covered with elegant, brush-stroked couplets memorializing her virtues. Six Buddhist monks came to keep watch, dressed in long robes. We children were told to sleep on the floor in the same room to keep her company. We were all terrified, mesmerized by the shaven, shining heads of the monks chanting their sutras in the flickering candlelight. All night I half feared and half hoped that Grandmother would push open the lid and resume her place among us.

Next day, there was a grand funeral. We mourners were all dressed in white, with white headbands or pretty white ribbons. We followed the coffin on foot to the Buddhist temple, accompanied by music and chants provided by Buddhist priests. Along the way, attendants threw artificial paper money into the air to appease the spirits. My brother Gregory took the place of chief mourner in the absence of Father, who was still hiding. He walked directly behind the coffin, which was placed on a cart and pulled by four men. Every few steps he would fall on his knees and start bewailing the loss of Grandmother at the top of his voice, banging his head repeatedly on the ground to make obeisance. We followed Gregory silently, marvelling at his performance.

Finally we arrived. The coffin was placed at the centre of an altar, surrounded by white floral arrangements, more silk banners and Grandmother's favourite dinner. There were about sixteen dishes of vegetables, fruits and sweets. Incense heavily scented the air. Prayers were chanted by monks. We were instructed to kowtow, kneeling and repeatedly touching our foreheads to the ground. The monks brought paper effigies of various articles which they thought she might need in the next world. There were masses of 'gold' and 'silver' ingots, a very intricate cardboard automobile resembling Father's Buick, an assortment of furniture and appliances, even a mah-jong set. These effigies were all burnt in a large urn. This delighted us children, and we eagerly helped stoke the urn by dropping in the effigies, forgetting in the excitement the purpose of the occasion and fighting over the paper car, which was very ingeniously made and covered with bright tin foil. Years later, Aunt Baba informed me that all of it, including the eulogizing banners, monks, flowers, musicians and effigies, were chartered from a speciality shop which arranged for such 'happenings' and supplied the appropriate props.

I remember watching the various paper images burning furiously and the smoke curling up and believing it would all regroup somewhere in the sky in the form of articles for the exclusive use and pleasure of Grandmother.

Our relatives and friends then followed us home and a lengthy and elaborate meal was served. Afterwards, we children were sent out to the garden to play. Lydia set up a makeshift urn. We manufactured paper stoves, beds and tables and began our own funeral for Grandmother. Soon the urn, which was a wooden flower pot, started to burn. Ye Ye came out in a fury, turned on the faucet and drenched us and our funeral pyre. We were sent to bed, but the incident helped to dissipate the dread and gloom of the last two days, and we felt that Grandmother was going to be happy in the other world.

Far away in Shanghai, Father grieved deeply. He could not accept that his beloved mother had died when she was just fifty-five. From then on, he wore only black neckties in honour of her memory.

The funeral marked the end of an era. We did not know it, but the carefree years of childhood were over.

Table of Contents

Men Dang Hu Dui: The Appropriate Door Fits the Frame of the Correct House.
Dian Tie Cheng Jin: Converting Iron into Gold.
Ru Ying Sui Xing: Inseparable as Each Other's Shadows.
Xiu Se Ke Can: Surpassing Loveliness Good Enough to Feast Upon.
Yi Chang Chun Meng: An Episode of a Spring Dream.
Jia Chou Bu Ke Wai Yang: Family Ugliness Should Never be Aired in Public.
Yuan Mu Qiu Yu: Climbing a Tree to Seek for Fish.
Yi Shi Tong Ren: Extend the Same Treatment to All.
Ren Jie Di Ling: Inspired Scholar in an Enchanting Land.
Du Ri Ru Nian: Each Day Passes Like a Year.
Zi Chu Ji Zhu: Original Ideas in Literary Composition.
Tong Chuang Yi Meng: Same Bed, Different Dreams.
?You He Bu Ke?: Is Anything Impossible?
Yi Qin Yi He: One Lute, One Crane.
Fu Zhong You Yu: Fish Swimming in a Cauldron.
Pi Ma Dan Qiang: One Horse, Single Spear.
Jia Ji Shui Ji: Marry a Chicken, Follow a Chicken.
Zhong Gua De Gua: You Plant Melons, You Reap Melons.
Xin Ru Si Hui: Hearts Reduced to Ashes.
Fu Zhong Lin Jia: Scales and Shells in the Belly.
Tian Zuo Zhi He: Heaven-Made Union.
Si Mian Chu Ge: Besieged by Hostile Forces on All Sides.
Cu Cha Dan Fan: Coarse Tea and Plain Rice.
Yin Shui Si Yuan: While Drinking Water, Remember the Source.
Yi Dao Liang Duan: Sever This Kinship with One Whack of the Knife.
Wu Feng Qi Lang: Creating Waves Without Wind.
Jin Zhu Zhe Chi, Jin Mo Zhe Hei: Near Vermilion, One Gets Stained Red; Near Ink, One Gets Stained Black.
Jiu Rou Peng You: Wine and Meat Friends.
Wu Tou Gong An: Headless andClueless Case.
Kai Men Yi Dao: Opened the Door to Salute the Thief.
Yan Er Dao Ling: Steal the Bell While Covering Your Ears.
Luo Ye Gui Gen: Falling Leaves Return to Their Roots.
Index.

What People are Saying About This

Amy Tan

Riveting. A marvel of memory. Poignant proof of the human will to endure.
— Author of The Joy Luck Club

Reading Group Guide

1. The basis for the book's title is the Chinese aphorism "falling leaves return to their roots." Why do you think Adeline Yen Mah chose this title? What does it mean in the context of her story?

2. Adeline Yen Mah begins her story with the reading of her father's will. Why do you think she chose this point in time to start her story? How does it set the tone for the book?

3. The author consistently gives the Chinese character, the phonetic spelling, and the English translation when using Chinese phrases. Why do you think she does this? What does it say about her, and how does it affect you?

4. Overall how would you characterize the author's life in China? Was there any happiness for her? What strategies does she use to cope with the situation and who aided her in those efforts? How would you have reacted in similar circumstances?

5. Discuss the social hierarchy of the Yen household. How did Adeline fit in? How about Ye Ye and Aunt Baba?

6. Of the many instances of cruelty that Adeline faced as a child, which ones affected you most strongly? Why?

7. How would you characterize the author's relationship with her Aunt Baba? How about with her grandfather Ye Ye?

8. How did the author's life change once she moved to England? What factors motivated this change? Why was medical school such an appropriate place for her? How did the author change during her stay in Britain? How is she different? How is she the same? How does this affect her career path? How does it affect her relationship with her father and stepmother?

9. During her time in America the author's relationship with her parents and her siblings changes. Discuss these changes and what brought them about.

10. Why do you think the author became involved with Karl and Byron? Why do these relationships turn out the way they do? What about her relationship with Bob? Compare and contrast them.

11. Throughout the story Adeline comes across as a remarkable individual. She is possessed of remarkable strength, resilience, and compassion. Is there any precedent for this in her family?

12. There are a number of funerals in the book, notably Ye Ye's, Father's, and Niang's. Discuss how the members of the family react to them. How are they different? How are they similar?

13. In the end, everyone becomes powerless in the face of Niang: the children, Aunt Baba, Ye Ye, even the author's father. Why is this? Even after her death she still is trying to manipulate the children. To what degree is she victorious? To what degree does she fail and why? What does the author learn after Niang's death: about her stepmother, about her siblings (particularly Lydia and James), and about herself? What is your final impression of Niang and of her children? How do you think they came to be this way?

14. The author subtitles the book, "The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter." How are the events portrayed influenced by Chinese society and customs? To what degree is this account of an abusive childhood universal? Would the events be different if they were to occur in another society? If so, how?

15. What is the significance of the fairy tale told to the author by Aunt Baba on the aunt's deathbed? Compare the story to Cinderella. In the end, what do we learn about Aunt Baba's role in Adeline's life and about her attitudes toward her niece?

16. The author has said, "I read somewhere that an unhappy childhood is a writer's whole capital. If that is so, then I am rich indeed." Memoirs such as Angela's Ashes and The Liar's Club have centered on unhappy childhoods. In your opinion, what is the reason for this genre's recent popularity with readers? How have these memoirs influenced modern storytelling? In what ways do these stories inspire writers and readers alike?

Interviews

On Tuesday, July 7th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Adeline Yen Mah to discuss FALLING LEAVES.


Moderator: Good evening, Adeline Yen Mah, and welcome to the barnesandnoble.com live Auditorium. We are so thrilled to have you with us tonight. Do you have any opening comments before we begin?

Adeline Yen Mah: I'm privileged to be invited and very happy to be here. FALLING LEAVES is doing very well. They are holding an auction for the paperback rights tomorrow. It's very exciting. I was informed today that the Book of the Month Club has chosen FALLING LEAVES as their title for December.


Peg Wallin from Rochester, NY: Could you tell us a bit about the time period of your youth in China? It sounds like a time of great growth and change. How did your family fit into that, economically and socially?

Adeline Yen Mah: My father was born in 1907 in Shanghai. In those days, Shanghai was divided into foreign concessions. He lived in the French Concession and attended a French Missionary school. To him, the lowliest French citizen was higher than the mightiest Chinese Mandarin. That is why he was dominated by my French stepmother all his life. When I was born, in 1937, my father was already a millionaire. Throughout my childhood in China, there was great turmoil. But the abuse I experienced was mainly from members of my own family.


Maureen from Milton, MA: Had you ever spoken or written about your life before FALLING LEAVES? Why are you telling the story at this point in your life? Thank you for taking my question. I am looking forward to reading your beautiful book.

Adeline Yen Mah: Maureen, I used to write short stories as a child to escape the reality of my tormented childhood. I wanted to write this story all my life, but could not do so while my stepmother was alive.


Shawn Merwin from New York: To what extent was the editing and revising of the book a frustrating experience?

Adeline Yen Mah: Shawn, I had no trouble writing all my experiences. In fact, instead of writer's block, I suffered from verbal diarrhea. My editor at Penguin in the U.K. (where it was first published) had to cut out large chunks of material. That was a painful experience. I thought every word was a pearl, but obviously my editor did not think so.


Victoria M. from Montana: Your life now seems so entirely different from the story of your childhood. Is it? Do you ever feel as if they are two separate lives? Or do you think about your childhood closely daily?

Adeline Yen Mah: Victoria, my life is absolutely different from my childhood. Even though this is the last third of my life, this is the best third. For the first 14 years of my life, I don't recall having opened my mouth once to offer a single spontaneous remark during any of the mealtimes I shared with my parents. Everything I repressed and dared not say is in FALLING LEAVES. Writing my book was a very satisfying experience. Let's call it bibliotherapy.


velouria97 from Brooklyn, NY: Your story sounds like a fairy tale. You have cruel siblings, a ruthless stepmother, and in the end, you live happily ever after. But in many fairy tales, the father often has the child's best interests in mind. Is this true of your father?

Adeline Yen Mah: Velouria, yes -- in spite of everything -- I think my father loved. However, he was completely dominated by my stepmother. In addition, like many Chinese fathers, he was afraid to show his emotion. Looking back, I think he led a very unhappy life because there was nowhere that he could relax. Even though he was very wealthy, his money did not bring him any happiness.


Marley from Princeton, NJ: Your experience growing up in China sounds harrowing. Do you believe your upbringing was typical of women at the time? Or do you think it was unique to your situation?

Adeline Yen Mah: In general, because of the teachings of Confucius, women were very much despised in China. However, in my case, I had a cruel stepmother in addition. In that sense it was unique. If my own mother had been alive, I don't think things would have been so bad.


Betsy Anne Wilcox from Wilmington, DE: Do you have children? If so, how have they been raised? What have you or would you do differently?

Adeline Yen Mah: I have two children, a son named Roger and a daughter, Ann. Roger is married to a beautiful Brazilian girl and practices as a doctor in Santa Monica. Ann works for a publisher in Boston and is 23 years old. Because of my own upbringing, I treated them with much love and leniency. Though I very much wished that they would learn Chinese, they refused to do so and, to my regret, can speak English only. I wish that I had put my foot down and insisted that they go to Chinese school when they were young.


Devon Maston from Evanston, IL: Could you tell us about your life now?

Adeline Yen Mah: Devon, I am very lucky, because I have a wonderful husband. We spend part of the year in London and part of the year in California. I have given up my medical practice in order to write, and I am now a full-time writer -- which I enjoy very much.


Brett McCollough from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: How does China today compare with the China in which you grew up?

Adeline Yen Mah: Brett, China has changed radically since I was a child in Shanghai. Because of the one-child policy, children are very much pampered these days. Even though boys are still preferred to girls, there is equal opportunity for girls in the educational institutions as well as employment. I think things are much better today than they were when I was growing up.


Chris from Seattle, WA: What prompted you to write this book now?

Adeline Yen Mah: Even though I knew my stepmother was neither kind nor good, I yearned for her approval all my life and could not have written this book while she was alive, because I did not wish to hurt her. After her death, in 1990, I simply felt compelled to write my story. However, the response from my readers has exceeded my wildest dreams.


Paul from pac87@aol.com: What was the most painful recollection you had while writing this?

Adeline Yen Mah: Paul, writing down the suffering of my grandfather during the last years of his life in Hong Kong was the most painful aspect for me. I saw a movie called "A Clockwork Orange" many years later and had to walk out when an old man was tortured by some young thugs. I could not bear to watch it, because it reminded me of my grandfather. In fact, even talking about it now is painful to me. I knew, even as a child, that one day I would escape. But his days were numbered, and I could not bear to watch him being tormented by my half-brother Franklin. I wished I could rescue him, but there was nothing I could do.


Benni from Bronx, NYC: If your siblings had written this story, how would it differ from the way you tell it in your book?

Adeline Yen Mah: I don't know! I wish they would! I wrote the truth as I remembered it.


Richarda A. from Portland, ME: Do you think, had you grown up happy in your life in China, that your life would be very much different now? Do you think you would have struggled so hard to achieve?

Adeline Yen Mah: My husband, Bob, teases me sometimes and tells me that I should be grateful to my stepmother for giving me my drive to succeed. It is true that all my life I have tried to do my best in whatever I attempted, so that I could become worthwhile in the eyes of my parents. I did not know it was an impossible task.


JooodieB@aol.com from JooodieB@aol.com: Do you think you will write any more books after this? Have you ever written before, or is this your first attempt?

Adeline Yen Mah: Yes, I have completed a second book, which is written for children. This should be available next year. It is my wish that unwanted children should read that book and be inspired to transcend their abuse and transform it into a source of courage, creativity, and compassion.


Elizabeth Reiss from reisser96@aol.com: Your grandmother sounds like an amazing individual. What have you learned of her personality? How did the rest of her family react to her independence? Do you feel she paved a path for you?

Adeline Yen Mah: My grandmother died when I was five years old, and I did not know her very well (I don't remember her well). My grandaunt was an amazing woman. She was the founder of the Women's Bank in Shanghai, and was successful, independent, and wealthy until the communist takeover in 1949. My Aunt Baba was very important to me. She was the one who told me repeatedly that I was worthwhile, and demonstrated over and over that I mattered to her. To a child, this concern on the part of an adult is of supreme importance. She was my savior.


Halley S. from Saranac Lake, NY: How have your siblings reacted to your book? What are their lives like now?

Adeline Yen Mah: I knew when I wrote the book that my siblings would not be pleased. Since the publication of FALLING LEAVES, I have been ostracized. However, I expected this and accept it. I don't know what my siblings' lives are like now. They are all very wealthy, and none of them have kept in touch with me.


Iris from Michigan: Did you write FALLING LEAVES for an American or a Chinese audience? Was it originally written in Chinese or English? Is there a difference in how it was received in different countries?

Adeline Yen Mah: Iris, it was originally written in English and published in England by Penguin. To everyone's surprise, it became a bestseller in London, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, and now the USA. I have translated it into Chinese myself. It has also been translated into Japanese and Dutch, and we have sold translation rights to Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Greece, and Spain. There are pending offers from Germany, Portugal, and France. It has not been distributed in China yet, so there is no word on the reaction.


Mary Alice from Great River, NY: How do you think Chinese women your own age would react to your book? Do you think they would be sympathetic?

Adeline Yen Mah: Mary Alice, I have had wonderful letters of support from women of all ages and all nationalities. The response has been overwhelming, and I'm very grateful to my readers. I feel I'm the luckiest woman in the world.


Mark-o from marco1@prodigy.net: This book sounds like it would make an incredible movie -- it just feels like an epic story. Has Hollywood shown any interest?

Adeline Yen Mah: Mark, I'm not at liberty to discuss the details, but yes, Hollywood has shown a strong interest in the book.


Joshua from NYC: Do you think the way you were treated would have happened in any family as a result of the culture at the time? Or do you think the cruelty was unique to your own family?

Adeline Yen Mah: Both. I think women were definitely second-class citizens in China, but in my case it was unique because of the death of my mother and the presence of a powerful, dominating, French stepmother.


Oren M. from Middlebury College: What do you think most helped you survive in the face of such a hard life?

Adeline Yen Mah: It was the love and care shown by my Aunt Baba. She told me I had to study hard because my life depended on it. Whenever I had a good report card, she locked the card in her safe deposit box and wore the key around her neck, as if my grades were so many precious jewels, impossible to replace. I could never let her down. And I will be grateful to her forever.


Johannes P. from Lincoln, Nebraska: What was it like to write about subject matter that is so close to you? Do you have any advice for writers who would like to tell similar and difficult family stories?

Adeline Yen Mah: They should write their story, and put all their emotions into their writing without any fear. Readers will know whether the writing is true or false. In addition, she will feel freer and happier just by writing it down, even if nobody reads it but her.


Naomi from Weston, CT: What would you like your readers to learn from reading your book?

Adeline Yen Mah: I would like them to persist in doing what they feel in their heart is right, because one day they will triumph over their adversities.


Moderator: Thank you for joining us tonight, Adeline Yen Mah, and for answering all of our questions about FALLING LEAVES. It has been a pleasure, and we wish you the best of luck. Before you go, do you have any closing comments for your online audience?

Adeline Yen Mah: I feel much honored that so many of my readers have joined me tonight, and if anybody should still have questions, I will gladly respond to them if they write to me in care of my publisher, John Wiley and Sons, 605 Third Ave., New York, NY 10158. And to all would-be writers, good luck. My best wishes are with you.


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Falling Leaves 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 125 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.
Anonymous 10 months ago
The New Times Best seller autobiography Falling Leaves consist of seven characters. The main character Adeline Yen Mah is an unwanted Chinese had to grow up without a mother and not wanted by her family. Adeline’s mother died while childbirth and since then she was blamed for her death, which she had no control over. Later on her dad, Joseph married a younger French women Niang, Niang thought of herself higher then as over the rest of the family. Adeline was always treated horribly but her brothers Edgar, Gregory, and James how are treated better than herself but Edgar and Gregory would torture her but not James he cared for her and grew close. The siblings didn't really have a good relationship with each other but grew more apart while reaching adulthood. Now Aunt Baba who took care of all four of them as children but their stepmother pulled them apart. Adeline was getting good grades and Niang starts giving her allowances every week and in return Adeline helps her stepmother. I liked this book because it gave me how bad people had their childhood although I did know what so people went through i never really visuals it as much. It opened me up more that no one really knows what is going on in to other people's lives. There was a point in the novel that i want to cry because how bad her family was treating her. This book was hard for me to read at times because of the betrayer that happens. Aunt Baba helps lift her spirits because she had felt that she does not belong but Aunt Baba gives her a reality check that she matters.
Anonymous 10 months ago
The non-fiction novel, Falling Leaves, by Adeline Yen Mah is about a girl named Adeline who was unwanted by her family and faced many challenges throughout her life. Adeline was always at the top of her class and loved to read, but she was never good enough for her parents. Her stepmother, Niang, and her father were very strict on Adeline during her childhood and even during her adulthood. They always viewed her as recalcitrant and showed animosity towards her, even though she was a caring and unfeigned girl. The main conflict in this story was more external because Adeline had to face the hardships that her parents threw at her. For example, Adeline went to her aunt, Aunt Baba, for everything emotionally and schoolwise, but Niang and her father restricted Adeline from seeing Aunt Baba when they thought she was being a bad influence on her. As a result of these hardships, Adeline became a successful woman with a husband, two kids, and a well paying job. An important event that happened during this story was when Adeline was sent to a boarding school for a few years where no one was allowed to visit her. Another main event in the story was when Adeline moved to America to pursue her career. When she was working in China, she wasn’t getting very far because it was just an internship, but when she moved to America, Adeline started to make more money. I would recommend this book because it shows how hard some people have to work to get to where they are today. Adeline Yen Mah is a great example of a person who had to try and prove herself to be who she is. Her parents always neglected her and she wanted to make them proud. Although, I didn’t entirely like this book because at the beginning it gave a lot of information about Adeline’s family before she was born. Other than the beginning, I had a good interest in this book. I liked how Adeline was always doing something when she had free time. For example, when she was sent away to boarding school and all her classmates had visitors, she went to the library and read instead of standing around and watching them.
Anonymous 10 months ago
Falling Leaves Book Review A nonfiction book Falling Leaves, by Adeline Yen Mah, first starts with the main character named Jun-ling, who was now named Adeline, was disregarded from her family. She wasn't able to do the things her six siblings were able to do, eat candy and play on the playground as the other kids did, she was not able to be a normal child. She has 4 older siblings, 1 sister, and 3 brothers. Counting her to be the stepchildren to their new Mom, Niang. The oldest Zin-jun, known as James, was described as being responsible and trustworthy, that’s what Adeline saw in James. Then it was Jun-pei her older sister who turned into Lydia. She was rebellious out of the siblings, wanted to find love, and was the first one to get married at a young age. Next came Gregory and Edgar, also known as Zi-jie and Zi-lin. Gregory was self-absorbed and only cared about himself, even if it would hurt Adeline, while Edgar was the normal child, excelled at everything and had good grades like Adeline, but was the only one who got the satisfaction from their parents. After Adeline were her stepchildren, Franklin and Susan. Since they were the blood of Niang, they received preferential treatment at the moment they were born. When her father married Niang, Adeline wasn’t treated like her other siblings and wasn’t part of the family at all. She couldn’t have friends over, had to watch her brothers and sisters had fun while she had to rely on her studies. It's her against her whole family, which was more of an external event. Some actions that let up to this was when her father’s colleagues came to visit and brought a large box as a gift that turned out to be seven little ducklings. Of course, her siblings had the first pick while Adeline was left with the scrawniest and weakest one out of the batch. One day, her father decided to test Jackie’s, father’s ferocious German Shepherd, obedience on one of the ducks. They all chose Adeline’s to be the test subject. She was devastated when it died not too long after. Another event at the end of the book When Niang passed away from sickness and cancer that was in her liver, Adeline nor Susan was invited to her funeral. When she read Niang’s will, her heart broke. It said it Gregory and Edgar will get 20 per cent, James will get 50 per cent, Lydia will get 10 per cent, but Adeline gets nothing. These events revealed that no matter how much work she put into to make her stepmother proud, it wouldn’t change the fact that she wouldn’t be a part of the family. There were parts that kinda lost me and other parts that were just so sad and I felt sorry for the main character. It had a very interesting plot, showing what she had to go through, it made you feel empathy for Adeline. If you like the Chinese culture, coming of age stories or just an empathetic story, I totally recommend this book, because even if they had some slow parts during the novel, you get to learn the culture back then for China like foot binding, the game of mahjong, needing to be married to a man before a certain age,and it shows certain Chinese words and characters that mean certain words and it shows you what it means. All those facts going through the novel are very interesting to read about.
Anonymous 10 months ago
In the New York Times Bestseller,Falling Leaves , by Adeline Yen Mah, it holds characters that allure you into the book. Adeline, who is the main character, grew up in Shanghai with a complicated life, but also with an earnest personality. Adeline lives with her Father, her stepmother Niang, her Grand Aunt known as Gong Gong, her grandfather, YeYe, Aunt Ba Ba and a dog named Jackie. Adeline has six siblings, four of Adeline’s older siblings, James, Lydia, Gregory, and Edgar are blood-related to her expect for the two younger ones, Susan and Franklin. Adeline’s stepmother’s name used to be Jeanne until the children were told to call her Niang which is another term for mother. In return, the children were given European names. Jun-pei, Adeline’s older sister became Lydia, Adeline’s older brothers, Zi-jie, Zi-lin, and Zi-jun transformed into Gregory, Edgar, and James, and Adeline’s younger siblings did not have chinese names since birth. Falling Leaves is an external conflict. Adeline struggles against her stepmother, Niang and her father as Niang does not really favor Adeline compared to the other children. Adeline deals with this her whole life. There are times where Adeline is far away from Niang country wise, however Adeline is always under Niang’s wings. Adeline’s mom died when Adeline was an infant, her father got remarried to Jeanne aka Niang. Niang really did not favor Adeline at all. Adeline was a scholar and everytime she got good grades on her report card, the only person who cared for her was her Aunt Ba Ba, who she shared a room with. Eventually, Aunt Ba Ba got caught helping Adeline by Niang and Niang decided to separate them into two different rooms. While growing up under Niang’s wings, Adeline and her blood-related siblings were never to be liked, cared for, or are to have fun at all. However on the other hand, Adeline’s step siblings, Susan and Franklin are treated way differently compared to her blood-related siblings. Susan and Franklin are adored, taken cared of, loved, and included. Falling Leaves is an amazing book. The events felt real, as if I were there in their time feeling what Adeline and her family felt. Adeline’s life isn’t the best, however life doesn’t go your way all the time. While reading this book, there were times where I wanted to punch something and even cry. Emotions came one after another while reading this book. Most of the book is about Adeline and her family issues, and the other half is about the war and her country, China. The way Aunt Ba Ba helps Adeline feel like she belongs in this world is one amazing thing that made this book special. When I read that Adeline was leaving away from Niang I was super happy for her. However every book has their bad side. The bad side to Falling Leaves is Adeline’s life. While reading the Falling Leaves, I felt so heartbroken mostly throughout the book. Falling Leaves is a book for people who loves stories related to, Cinderella. Just like Cinderella, her stepmother ruins her life. It’s a Cinderella with a twist.
Anonymous 10 months ago
In the New York Times Bestseller,Falling Leaves , by Adeline Yen Mah, it holds characters that allure you into the book. Adeline, who is the main character, grew up in Shanghai with a complicated life, but also with an earnest personality. Adeline lives with her Father, her stepmother Niang, her Grand Aunt known as Gong Gong, her grandfather, YeYe, Aunt Ba Ba and a dog named Jackie. Adeline has six siblings, four of Adeline’s older siblings, James, Lydia, Gregory, and Edgar are blood-related to her expect for the two younger ones, Susan and Franklin. Adeline’s stepmother’s name used to be Jeanne until the children were told to call her Niang which is another term for mother. In return, the children were given European names. Jun-pei, Adeline’s older sister became Lydia, Adeline’s older brothers, Zi-jie, Zi-lin, and Zi-jun transformed into Gregory, Edgar, and James, and Adeline’s younger siblings did not have chinese names since birth. Falling Leaves is an external conflict. Adeline struggles against her stepmother, Niang and her father as Niang does not really favor Adeline compared to the other children. Adeline deals with this her whole life. There are times where Adeline is far away from Niang country wise, however Adeline is always under Niang’s wings. Adeline’s mom died when Adeline was an infant, her father got remarried to Jeanne aka Niang. Niang really did not favor Adeline at all. Adeline was a scholar and everytime she got good grades on her report card, the only person who cared for her was her Aunt Ba Ba, who she shared a room with. Eventually, Aunt Ba Ba got caught helping Adeline by Niang and Niang decided to separate them into two different rooms. While growing up under Niang’s wings, Adeline and her blood-related siblings were never to be liked, cared for, or are to have fun at all. However on the other hand, Adeline’s step siblings, Susan and Franklin are treated way differently compared to her blood-related siblings. Susan and Franklin are adored, taken cared of, loved, and included. Falling Leaves is an amazing book. The events felt real, as if I were there in their time feeling what Adeline and her family felt. Adeline’s life isn’t the best, however life doesn’t go your way all the time. While reading this book, there were times where I wanted to punch something and even cry. Emotions came one after another while reading this book. Most of the book is about Adeline and her family issues, and the other half is about the war and her country, China. The way Aunt Ba Ba helps Adeline feel like she belongs in this world is one amazing thing that made this book special. When I read that Adeline was leaving away from Niang I was super happy for her. However every book has their bad side. The bad side to Falling Leaves is Adeline’s life. While reading the Falling Leaves, I felt so heartbroken mostly throughout the book. Falling Leaves is a book for people who loves stories related to, Cinderella. Just like Cinderella, her stepmother ruins her life. It’s a Cinderella with a twist.
Anonymous 10 months ago
In the New York Times Bestseller,Falling Leaves , by Adeline Yen Mah, it holds characters that allure you into the book. Adeline, who is the main character, grew up in Shanghai with a complicated life, but also with an earnest personality. Adeline lives with her Father, her stepmother Niang, her Grand Aunt known as Gong Gong, her grandfather, YeYe, Aunt Ba Ba and a dog named Jackie. Adeline has six siblings, four of Adeline’s older siblings, James, Lydia, Gregory, and Edgar are blood-related to her expect for the two younger ones, Susan and Franklin. Adeline’s stepmother’s name used to be Jeanne until the children were told to call her Niang which is another term for mother. In return, the children were given European names. Jun-pei, Adeline’s older sister became Lydia, Adeline’s older brothers, Zi-jie, Zi-lin, and Zi-jun transformed into Gregory, Edgar, and James, and Adeline’s younger siblings did not have chinese names since birth. Falling Leaves is an external conflict. Adeline struggles against her stepmother, Niang and her father as Niang does not really favor Adeline compared to the other children. Adeline deals with this her whole life. There are times where Adeline is far away from Niang country wise, however Adeline is always under Niang’s wings. Adeline’s mom died when Adeline was an infant, her father got remarried to Jeanne aka Niang. Niang really did not favor Adeline at all. Adeline was a scholar and everytime she got good grades on her report card, the only person who cared for her was her Aunt Ba Ba, who she shared a room with. Eventually, Aunt Ba Ba got caught helping Adeline by Niang and Niang decided to separate them into two different rooms. While growing up under Niang’s wings, Adeline and her blood-related siblings were never to be liked, cared for, or are to have fun at all. However on the other hand, Adeline’s step siblings, Susan and Franklin are treated way differently compared to her blood-related siblings. Susan and Franklin are adored, taken cared of, loved, and included. Falling Leaves is an amazing book. The events felt real, as if I were there in their time feeling what Adeline and her family felt. Adeline’s life isn’t the best, however life doesn’t go your way all the time. While reading this book, there were times where I wanted to punch something and even cry. Emotions came one after another while reading this book. Most of the book is about Adeline and her family issues, and the other half is about the war and her country, China. The way Aunt Ba Ba helps Adeline feel like she belongs in this world is one amazing thing that made this book special. When I read that Adeline was leaving away from Niang I was super happy for her. However every book has their bad side. The bad side to Falling Leaves is Adeline’s life. While reading the Falling Leaves, I felt so heartbroken mostly throughout the book. Falling Leaves is a book for people who loves stories related to, Cinderella. Just like Cinderella, her stepmother ruins her life. It’s a Cinderella with a twist.
Anonymous 10 months ago
The novel “Falling Leaves” by Adeline Yen Mah consists of the main character Adeline, she is the youngest of five children in her family.Edgar and Gregory are Adelines older brothers whom are very abusive.James happens to be one of Adelines closest and favorite brothers.Lydia is her sister, which they don't really get along well being that she had turned Niang, Adelines abusive step mother against Adeline. Franklin is her step brother, who is Niangs son and is spoiled to death by her.Aunt Baba is the closest thing to a mother that Adeline has in her life, they have a very close relationship.Mr Yen is Adelines father who is abusive physically and emotionally, he isolates Adeline and blames her for her mother's death during childbirth.Gong Gong is her grandmother, and Ye Ye is her grandfather, he very much loved Adeline and they too had a very good relationship and he had been more of a father figure to her rather then her own father.The main conflict that arises throughout the story is mistreatment, and growing up with a traumatic childhood. The main character Adelines mother dies while birthing her, she is constantly getting blamed for her mother's death by her father,soon after her father finds a new wife who now emotionally abuses Adeline and her older siblings. Later on Adeline and her family flee to the british colony later on she wins a playwriting competition which makes her think that her father was proud of her for the first time,Adeline then goes off to college.And comes back after to pursue the role of women in traditional chinese culture. While reading Falling Leaves I very muched loved it, it was a very suspenseful book with a lot of twist and turns for example, when H.H.Tien had committed suicide very much hit me as a surprise, and also when Niangs son Franklin had passed away after eating strawberries, the book throws one thing after another to you while reading but what I did not like about the book was that Adeline had been very good to everyone around her but yet was the one constantly getting abused but not only was she constantly getting abused she knew it was going to happen so i really don't understand why she kept going back for more each time, the things that had happened to her were very much horriabe and something she should have had to go thru but i really dont get why keeps going back to the family that mistreated her like this.Overall i would recommend this book for others especially women, because the book showed how strong Adeline was and it's pretty impressive being that she was a young female and this took place so many years ago.
Anonymous 10 months ago
Adeline Yen Mah is the main character, who is the unwanted daughter that people and her own family dislike. She’s known as the child that killed her mother during pregnancy, even though it doesn’t have anything thing to do with her. The characters in the book first off with her dad; Joseph Yen who remarries a partly French woman named Niang which is the wicked stepmother that isn’t nice or at least care for her husband's children. Her three brothers James, Edgar, and Gregory all get treated better than her because of the fact during birth their mother died due to Adeline, but James is the only sibling that really actually cares for her, who plays with her when they were younger. As they grow older her and her siblings start to drift apart because they are different. Lastly, their Aunt Baba that used to used care of them still Niang splits them apart, but she starts to notice that Adeline does really good in school and gives her money every once in a while to help her have daily needs. The main conflict is between Adeline and Niang is the fact that Niang doesn´t care for her and abuses her which leads to the point of embarrassment and pain to Adeline. After she starts to grow older she realizes that her education is valuable, and the key to getting out of this horrible place she is in. Niang is still in the process of taking over the families household and her husband's money for his business, but his children are in the way of her of what she wants so she pushes them out and makes them feel unwanted. Niang starts to get worse and worse as Adeline grows older into a successful woman, but there still was an emptiness from the love that was missing for her family, the love that they never showed her.
MsNikki on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My friend lent me this book, and I forgot the name until I saw it on someone else's LibraryThing library. My memories of it are faint, but it was a great book. I remember how it made me feel, her struggles were so real. and her horrors were simply that.
bfolds on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fascinating glimpse into a painful past. Well worth the read.
apartmentcarpet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an incredibly frustrating book. It is a memoir - an absolutely horrifying story of emotional abuse suffered by a small girl at the hands of her wealthy and cruel stepmother. As Adeline grows older, I alternated between wanting her to succeed, and wanting to shake her by the shoulders and tell her to stand up for herself. Since this is real life, the ending is unsatisfying.
LAteacher on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It is about a girl named Adeline Yen-mah who was born in 1937 to an affluent Chinese family. Because her mom died in childbirth, Adeline was mistreated by all her siblings because they thought she was bad luck and killed their mom. This is the story of ADeline's struggle for acceptance and becoming a psychian and doctor in the UNited States
andreablythe on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
And incredible story -- Adeline is given so little love in her childhood that the smallest kindnesses are incredibly important and moving. Truely a well written and touching memoir.
SqueakyChu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Adeline Yen Mah grew up with one sister, three brothers, one half-sister, and one half-brother, her father, her Aunt Baba, he grandfather Ye Ye, and her stepmother Niang. Adeline¿s own mother died while in childbirth with her. The woman whom her father married kept her and her bothers subservient in the household. However, she was the one who took the brunt of the negative feelings both harbored and expressed by Niang and, unfortunately, followed by her father.The author so clearly expresses the pain of her childhood years. In one episode where she talks about a pet chick she had, the scenario is heartrending. It is hard to believe that human beings, particularly parents or those entrusted to care for our young can be so oblivious to their feelings and needs. I'm disappointed in this book. I thought it would be the story of "an unwanted Chinese daughter" but it's more of a "poor me" litany of diatribes against Adeline's step-mother Niang. It's a pretty one-sided story. I was very upset about how this story was written as if it were a vendetta against her entire family. Even the good points she makes about her family members (except for her dearly beloved and kindly Aunt Baba), she does so with the intent of showing how each hurt her.
autumnesf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is written by the author of Chinese Cinderella. I wanted to know a little more about her life so I ordered this book. It is an unbelievable story of neglect and emotional abuse from her whole family. It is amazing that she succeeded like she did. A very good book but not easy to read emotionally.
countrylife on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Falling Leaves is a heartbreaking tale of a broken family in China. Madeline's mother dies after delivering her, and her father remarries to a beautiful but ruthless woman. She wants nothing to do with the baby and little to do with the other children. The others eventually work out a sort of peace with their stepmother. But this peace is not extended to her. Their father does not see what the new stepmother is inflicting on them, until it is too late and he suffers from her cruelty himself. Their only allies in the family are their grandfather, Ye Ye, and their Aunt Baba. The elderly Ye Ye could not do much to offset the problem. But Aunt Baba - She became our surrogate mother, worrying about our meals, clothing, schooling and health. An invisible silken handcuff was thus slipped around her willing wrists, evaporating her chances of marriage and a family of her own. When the cultural revolution creates hardship on the country, moves must be made, and the family split. Their father (a rich businessman) and his wife flee, taking Ye Ye and some of the children. Aunt Baba and Madeline are left elsewhere. Ye Ye's letters to Aunt Baba became more and more despondent. 'All of us clings tenaciously to life,' Ye Ye wrote, 'but there are fates worse than death: loneliness, boredom, insomnia, physical pain. I have worked hard all my lief and saved every cent. Now I wonder what it was all about. The agony and fear of dying, surely that is worse than death. In this house where I count for nothing, du ri ru nian (each day passes like a year). Could death really be worse. Tell me, daughter, what is there left for me to look forward to? Madeline describes her childhood, unloved save for Ye Ye and Aunt Baba, and then separated from both of them, her experiences at school, and finally medical school, becoming a doctor, and still under the thumb of her stepmother. After she is able to return to China, there is a poignant reunion with her Aunt Baba, and Madeline is able to stay with her aunt during her last days. Aunt Baba was not one to dwell on the bitter hardships she suffered during the Cultural Revolution. Love, generosity and humour never left her. Life had come full circle. Luo ye gui gen. (Falling leaves return to their roots.) I felt a wave of repose, a peaceful serenity.Here is a story of life in China, a bit of Chinese history, a look into the culture and family life through the eyes of one Chinese girl.
jayne_charles on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After a slow start, in which I struggled to keep track of the numerous family members, this improved rapidly as it progressed. Billed as a story about a deprived childhood, it surprised me that things seemed to start off more or less OK. It took the arrival of the duck to get me properly outraged (animals always get us Brits going of course). And, fair enough, this family really did have the Stepmother from Hell.This book taught me more about Chinese social and political history than any school book ever did. The use of Chinese writing and proverbs (with occasional discussion of Chinese calligraphy) was fascinating. By the time the book reached its closing chapters I was sorry to see it end.
ahgonzales on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a frustrating read. At the beginning of the book, the writing felt clunky despite the story moving pretty well. All and all, it was a litany of bad experiences from birth to adulthood all stemming from an "evil" stepmother who wasn't much older than some of her new stepchildren. The point of the book seemed unclear and the ending was not worth the read.
elleayess on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Despite previous bad reviews of this book, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was very hard to put down and I couldn't wait to get back to it every evening. I know that many books are "to each their own", this book was definitely enjoyable to me. I was not aware that the author had another book out, I may try to look for that one.
heina on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Whiny, poorly written, humorless, and dry. I understand that she had a wicked stepmother, and the abuse was horrible, but I would stop short of calling her a Cinderella -- she wasn't starved or forced to scrub floors or anything. Her story would have been better served if her tone were a bit less full of self-absorbed self-pity, and if she were able to at least elicit a single smile in the whole book.
amlet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A quick read because it was easy to relate to the author's voice. She reminded me of my mother in her stubbornness to succeed academically. The descriptions of Niang's family politics were a bit foreign and were so petty and manipulative that I was almost wary of the dynamic halfway through the story.
kakadoo202 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
once i was 1/3 into teh book I could not stop and read it in one sitting. Interessting background on Chinese history. since I jsut had read SHANGHAI GIRLS it was amazing to read the story of another girl in the same time frame in the same city.Heartbreaking is that shed is relaly unwanted by her whole family and she ends up in an orphanage. You shoudl think that with a big familyh like this there woudl be more love and more democracy but I assume the circumstances and the upbringing of the family memeber to always bow to the family head are hard to understand to us in the modern times. I was surprise how mean your own siblings can be.She should have cut her ties to the family instead of trying and trying again to please to be accepted. THere is always two. One who is abusing and one who lets the abuse happen.very sad but haunting story.