Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter
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Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  14,186 ratings  ·  1,245 reviews
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 Eurasian stepmother. Determi...more
Paperback, 280 pages
Published April 6th 1999 by Broadway Books (first published 1997)
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Chelsea
I half liked this book. I didn't like how Adeline made herself out to be this perfect little angel who gave to everyone and just kept getting shit on. She was constantly a victim to everyone in her family, yet kept going back for more abuse. The things that happened to her as a child were sad and horrible, but I don't understand why you would ever purposely keep going back to a family who despised you as an adult when she wasn't dependent upon them. I also found it strange that she longed for a...more
Melissa
I really didn't like this book. About 1/3 of the way through, I thought to myself, "Why do I care about this person." I even asked out loud a couple of nights later why I was reading the book. To which my husband replied, "Then don't read it." But, not one to stop a book half-way through, I continued on. I hoped that eventually I would come to understand why I should care about the author. At the end though, I still didn't. Sure, she had a crap childhood. For that, I give her pity. Her step moth...more
Brent Jones
This book is a look at a culture and a country. It was also a look at a family and relationships that just didn't work for any of the children but especially for one young girl, Adeline Yen Mah. Her respect for and commitment to be part of a family offered an insight into the culture. Her relationships with her siblings as a young girl and later as a successful women added a dimension to the cruelty she suffered from both of her parents.

This Chinese proverb described her life. "When leaves fall...more
Dorothea
This memoir of an unwanted Chinese daughter failed to fully gain my sympathy for its author. Adeline Yen Mah was born in 1937 to a wealthy family in Tianjin. Her mother died shortly thereafter and her father married a woman who would become Adeline's wicked stepmother.

When the family moved to Shanghai, Adeline was forced to endure the hideousness of her straight Chinese hair when she longed for a "perm" like the stylish westerns had. She and her brothers were forced to walk nearly three miles t...more
Paul Wallis
This is a bio with a particularly brutal twist. It's not a "pretty" book. It's a narrative of a viciously dysfunctional family. For those who don't know Chinese culture, it's also a pretty authentic look at the old hierarchy of family relationships.

The nauseating/insane character of Niang, a truly Machiavellian monster of a stepmother, pervades the story, deforming family life. Adeline's innocent and understandably bewildered blundering through her early life is bad enough, but the story gets e...more
Polly
Falling leaves is the second book I read from Adeline Yan Mah, which is a connecting story to The Chinese Cinderella. Since I read The Chinese Cinderella first so the Falling Leaves doesnt seem as interesting. I got pretty bored at the beginning so I strongly recommend readers to read this book before the other. The first half of the book discuesses how Adeline was teased by her siblings because after few days of her birth, her mother pass away. Which her rich father got another wife that is ha...more
Katie
I couldn't put down this book, but it was utterly, utterly depressing. I mentioned that to a friend, who glanced at it and said, "Uh, did you see the subtitle? What did you think it was going to be?" Touché. The few moments of respite from wanting to cry were when Mah put in Chinese history for context, which worked well, was helpful, and as I said, let me breathe for a moment before I inevitably wanted to go back in time and adopt this poor creature.

And that was the thing that got me - at least...more
Amber Karnes
Jul 09, 2008 Amber Karnes rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: anyone interested in Chinese culture, those who like memoirs
You know those books you can't put down? This was one of em for me. I was mesmerized by the cruelty the author was subjected to by her own family in this quite depressing account of a child's life, and somehow I still left with a positive impression. She didn't slam her family or say anything hurtful about them (which they MORE than deserved), she just presented her memories and the memories of her siblings as laid out facts. This is what happened to me. She's more courageous than I would have b...more
Laura
I was excited to read this book. Now that I'm finished, I'm a little flummoxed as to my reaction. So I review it through two different lenses. Whenever I read memoirs, I look at them in terms of "this is someone's life story, it's not going to fit a traditional book story narrative" and then I do think of it in terms of a standard narrative. Memoirs are a unique mix of these perspectives.

First, as a memoir, it's excellent. Her recall of detail, clearly aided by her siblings' memory and supplemen...more
Terry
I suppose I should say SPOILER ALERT since I mention some plot points ahead. I enjoyed about 75% of this book; after a while the haggling over her father's will and stepmother's will and the details of the never-ending dramas with her siblings got a tiny bit tiresome. Everyone is so abusive that you wonder why she keeps going back for more, but, then, isn't that always the way? It's easier to see when you're outside of the situation. The most poignant part of the book to me is when her brother f...more
Rachel Blanchard
Apr 11, 2008 Rachel Blanchard rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Any girl who's ever felt marginalized because whe wasn't born a boy
Recommended to Rachel by: My dad
Ever wonder what it would be like to grow up as the unwanted daughter? In Chinese culture, where people are ranked by sex, social status, and order of birth, the main character finds herself on the bottom of every measuring stick. Learn how she overcomes feelings of worthlessness, abandonment, and rejection to triumph over a culture that tries to kill her spirit simply because she was born a girl, the unwanted daughter of her father's least favorite wife.
Melissa
To preface, let me say that I have read "Chinese Cinderella" by the same author which is essentially the same book, just written for a younger audience. Another difference in the two is that "Chinese Cinderella" ends when Adeline (the author) goes off to college. "Falling Leaves" however, ends in the late 1990's when she has grown up and is a middle aged woman.

This is an autobiographical book and details teh life of Adeline Yen Mah, an unwanted Chinese daughter. The early part of the book descri...more
Ruth
I don't like to be negative about stories like this--hard childhoods. As a book, it is okay. Well written, some good descriptions. The author is about the same age as my mother, and this gave a context for me. She grew up as a miserable rich girl in Hong Kong. Read it yourself if you want to.

My negative point of view is that I find children who keep chasing their parents' love and approval annoying. This is nothing against Ms. Yen Mah, she really survived a lot of rejection, lousy marriage, etc....more
Aldanyh
This book is very concisely written - the author's, and her large family's lives' stories condensed down to around 300 pages. I therefore found the narrative fluid and highly interesting, with no boring bits at all. It is so concisely written that phrases from the book still stand out in my memory. It was a very enjoyable read.

What I liked most of all was the highly conservative nature of the main character Adeline , which is so rare to find in these cross-cultural stories. She is loyal and dev...more
Jim
This book is by no means a feel-good memoir in almost any sense, as the dominating character---the author's stepmother---is on a par with any evil character conjured in fables or by Disney. Few of the supporting cast are of much redeeming value as well, from the successful but weak father who lets his new wife control and destroy his family, to the siblings who scheme, plot, and connive. One aunt is a shining light of strong will and determination and kindness. The children each react to oppress...more
Danley Hu
I picked this book out because I thought there could have been some connections I could have made with it, considering my heritage is also Chinese. This book was however a book that didn't quite capture any essence of true culture. It was more of a narrative about how the protagonist's childhood was horrid and negative. A majority of the book was insignificant and I didn't really understand why I was reading this book. It didn't make a lot of sense to me. It was a book that, in ways, asked for p...more
Bechai

Depression caught up with me while reading this book. I was already touched by its condensed version (Chinese Cinderella) and reading this book felt like rubbing in the "touchy feeling" even more.

My heart goes to Aunt Baba who survived being a spinster, a worker in a male-dominated labor force, and a victim of war. It's amazing how a person endures, and live through life amid utmost cruelty.

Niki
Hmm.. I wish I had enjoyed this book more. Certainly not unpleasant to read, I read it relatively quickly and with ease, but I come away from it just sort of feeling like I want to shrug and say, "Okay. I just read a book. Ho-hum."
This book is a memoir about one woman's life from birth to middle age, but it largely focuses on cultural and political shifts in China, and how the Cultural Revolution especially shaped her family's choices and opportunities. The history I found to be rather interesti...more
Indira Iljas
Well... akhirnya selesai juga baca buku ini, meskipun pada awalnya sudah berasa ini bakalan jadi buku 'macet' alias mogok. tapi ternyata... Berhasilll... berhasillll........


Dari cover depan buku ini sebenarnya pembaca sudah dapat menerka isi buku ini. Yah... benar, mengenai pergulatan hidup seorang gadis Cina yang dibuang oleh keluarganya.

Alkisah seorang gadis Cina bernama Jun Ling dari keluarga Yen, ia memiliki 4 orang kakak, 1 perempuan dan lainnya laki-laki. Untuk ukuran Cina tempo dulu, kelu...more
Stephen Gallup
Since memoir is my primary area of interest as a writer, and since Chinese culture/history remains one of my favorite subjects, this book ought to have thrilled me a lot more than it did.

I like the way the story is structured, with the bereaved family gathering in the lawyer's office to hear the reading of their father's will, followed by all the years of earlier events leading up to that moment, a second pass at describing it with more understanding, and then a few more years in which the famil...more
Jme
I started with Chinese Cinderella and fell in love with Adeline and her resilience. Falling Leaves is the adult version of the novel, and gives you an in depth explanation of everything. To endure so much apathy from your own siblings, a stiff stepmother& and greedy spineless father is so sad; it's a wonder she didn't rebel against them in a more destructive manner- the same way teenagers do, today.
The novel is beautiful, heartbreaking, and engulfs you as if you are just a painting on the w...more
Pita
We were forced to read this for our sophomore year literature class and at first, I thought it was okay. I mean, her writing was good but a part of me felt like the first few chapters felt distant, and as much as I tried to sympathize with her, I really couldn't because there was this lack of honesty and emotion. However, I started to REALLY dislike this book when suddenly young Adeline (SPOILERS) grows up and becomes this successful doctor, which I really liked because it felt like a big "HA HA...more
Lauren
I like memoirs that reveal the soul of the writer, and enrich the reader with insights gained from his/her experiences. Reading this book, Adeline Yen Mah came across as shallow and tedious, lacking any real depth from her suffering. Which leads me to wonder, how bad did she have it, really? Her disdain for Chinese peasants came seeping through the text, along with a preoccupation with amassing wealth. At a time when millions in her own country were starving, the writer lamented the lack of vari...more
Maureen Heraty
I seem to like books about the plight of Chinese women, good and bad. However, this one disappointed me. This is the autobiography of a girl who was treated very badly by her father and stepmother after her father remarried. The title infers that her problem stems from being Chinese and a girl. In fact, it has little to do with her gender or origin. It's a dysfunctional family story and it could be set anywhere. It's simply the usual tale of the first family being rejected in favor of the second...more
Mandy
I am not sure where to start with this book.

The step mom that was abusive to all the children was only 18 years old when she became mother of 5 kids. Not that that justifies abuse but she was a child herself.

I felt like Adeline was whining throughout the entire book. I felt she was prideful and if she would just apologize, even if she was not the one in the wrong, life could have been easier for her but she chose not to, and she never saw it this way throughout the book. Just be a peacemaker an...more
Jane
I'd recently read Yen Mah's book "Chinese Cinderella." This book, "Falling Leaves," is a slightly different version that leads the reader to learn more about Yen Mah's adult life (picking up in part where "Chinese Cinderella" left off). Yen Mah's family is/was exceedingly dysfunctional. Maybe it's because I'm not part of Chinese culture, but some of the parts seem completely incomprehensible to me (for instance, not looking at the second page of their father's will because their step-mother told...more
Charlene
I really rated this book betweem a 2-3star. More 3 star

This book is a momoir of a Chineese girl who grew up in China and than in Hong Kong; How she was able to over come a terrible childhood at the hand of an evil stepmother. The story is very moving and I really felt her pain emensely. She grew up with the proverbal wicked stepmother. Her story was very moving and if rating her story alone I would give her a 4 star. The problem I had with the story was that it jumped around to much for my liki...more
Alice
I had expected this book to be about China's "one child" policy and its implications for the family. However, it was actually a memoir of a disfunctional family in which the "wicked stepmother" was cruel to all the family members, especially the youngest daughter.

Good parts: each chapter was framed around a Chinese proverb, which was also written in the Chinese characters. Very insightful into the Chinese culture, especially as it existed earlier in this century. A good attempt to analyze the fa...more
Patty
Great memoir of Adeline Mah. The time setting begins in 1949 during the revolution in China. The impact of Mao on society was insightful and interesting. Her father's success under both the old and a new government in Hong Kong suggested that times might get better for the family but it didn't get better for Adeline.
It was fascinating to learn how Adeline, seemingly against all odds, became successful and happy.
Culture played such a large part of the story that it made the otherwise familiar "...more
George
A GUT-WRENCHING READ; PAINFUL AND COMPELLING.

How bitterly cruel folks can be to one another never ceases to amaze.

In her very well written memoir, ‘Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter’, Adeline Yen Mah writes of almost unimaginable depths of family cruelty, made all the more befuddling by its seeming senselessness.

Juxtaposed against the equally senseless and vicious cruelty of the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960s, the personal is mirrored in society at large. Ms...more
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Falling Leaves 6 87 Nov 03, 2012 01:40PM  
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Adeline Yen Mah (Chinese: Yen Jun-ling; Pinyin: Mǎ Yán Jūnlíng; Yale (Cantonese): ma5 yim4 gwan1 ling4) (official birthday 30th November 1937, however real birthday not known, this is in fact her father's birthday) is a Chinese-American author and physician. She grew up in Tianjin, Shanghai and Hong Kong with an older sister, Lydia; three older brothers, Gregory, Edgar and James and a younger half...more
More about Adeline Yen Mah...
Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter Chinese Cinderella and the Secret Dragon Society A Thousand Pieces of Gold: Growing Up Through China's Proverbs Watching the Tree to Catch a Hare: A Chinese Daughter Reflects on Happiness, Spiritual Beliefs and Universal Mystery of the Song Dynasty Painting

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“Don't trust anyone. Be a cold fish. I hurt no one. And no one can hurt me.” 18 likes
“At the age of three my grand aunt proclaimed her independence by categorically refusing to have her feet bound, resolutely tearing off the bandages as fast as they were applied.” 10 likes
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