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Falling Leaves Return to Their Roots: The True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  25,561 ratings  ·  1,871 reviews
The True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter

The story of an unwanted Chinese daughter growing up during the Communist Revolution, blamed for her mother's death, ignored by her millionaire father and unwanted by her Eurasian step mother. A story of greed, hatred and jealousy; a domestic drama is played against the extraordinary political events in China and Hong Kong.

Paperback, 288 pages
Published October 7th 2010 by Penguin (first published 1997)
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Olivia Chinese Cinderella is based on this book. Falling leaves is the real story but for adults. Chinese Cinderella was made for children. Falling leaves is…moreChinese Cinderella is based on this book. Falling leaves is the real story but for adults. Chinese Cinderella was made for children. Falling leaves is about after Adeline's parents died. After Chinese cinderella(less)
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Average rating 3.89  · 
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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
Edgarr Alien Pooh
Nov 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Falling Leaves is an extremely well-written Autobiography by Adeline Yen Mah. By far one of the best I have read recently BUT before you rush out and add it to your TBR, please be warned, it is as depressing as hell.

Adeline recounts her life from her birth in 1937, she was born in Tianjin, China. A quick mathematical calculation, and yes, that made her four years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and made WWII a real-world war. The Japanese flooded into China soon after and remained unt
Paul Wallis
Apr 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Brent M.  Jones
Mar 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Falling Leaves, The True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter is a look at the culture, country, and family relationships that just didn't work for any of the children in this wealthy Chinese family, especially for one young girl, Adeline Yen Mah.

She was born in 1937 and her mother died when she was born, and her new mother was Eurasian who brought her own children into the marriage.
She struggled to be loved by the family but was treated cruelly. Her respect for and effort to be part of the f
Oct 21, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 31, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
In English we say "An apple falls close to the tree" meaning you are like your family. In Shanghai they say "The leaves fall close to the roots" meaning you always go back to family, to your roots--like it or not.

Covering a sweeping range of China's immediate past, from the 1930s to today, this book is partly fascinating history of a period of enormous upheaval and change, partly telenovela of the "Falcon Crest" sort, as it tells the story of a wealthy family and the machinations of the wicked s
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
Mar 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: advisory
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
Mar 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This fabulous autobiography is both a Cinderella story and a view into 20th century Chinese life. The author was born to a successful family in Shanghai, but had the bad luck to be the baby born just before her mother's death. She was despised, not only by her siblings but by the woman that her father married. She spent her young life trying to please her parents and trying to bring her family together. It is a portrait of a very dysfunctional family. My heart ached for Adeline at the numerous i ...more
Aug 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a typical Cinderella versus Evil Stepmother story. From the subtitle I anticipated a horror story of deprivation and starvation, little girl sent to the orphanage or sold into slavery type of thing. Instead, it reads more like a poor little rich girl saga. Adeline's mother died shortly after her birth and her father, a wealthy businessman, took on a new trophy wife. The result was a mixed family of siblings and step-siblings who, predictably, were split along maternal lines in that the c ...more
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.
Amber Karnes
Jul 02, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I probably would not have read this book if a friend hadn't given it to me before moving away (to California). Thinking that it was a new book, I was surprised that it was published in 1997, already more than 20 years ago. The author, Adeline Yen Mah, a Chinese-American physician born in China, was born in 1937, so she's 80 years old now. It's her story of overcoming loneliness and despair resulting from a traumatic childhood. The backdrop of her youth is one of turmoil and revolutionary change ...more
Mar 17, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Rachel Blanchard
Nov 03, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...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
Oct 01, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
couldn't even get half way through. the only emotion that this account brought up was anger - anger that such a whiny, spoilt child is still holding on to her mistreatment as a child while there is true abuse and neglect going on everyday that makes her inability to get tram fair (oh no, she had to walk 3 miles to her private school while her classmates took their chauffered limos!) look pathetic. she no doubt had an unhappy childhood and her stepmother clearly did not understand mothering, but ...more
Oct 16, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Spoiler Alert! I never felt any connection or deep sympathy buildup with Adeline Yen Mah. Apparently she did not have the best of chilhoods. Her brothers teased and hit her and her stepmother did hit her once, but was she sexually molested, locked in closets, sold down the river? Nooooo, she was well educated (admittedly lonely), fed, clothed, and hospitalized when sick, sent abroad for more education, all on her father's dime! Then she has the nerve to say he didn't love her when she felt left ...more
Jun 29, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
I read this book in 3 days. I really admire the author's candor and honesty. Her life story is heartbreaking at times and the history of Shanghai, Tianjin and Hong Kong were brought to life to me through her story. Despite the cruelty she experienced, Adeline was always looking for acceptance and the best in other people. For that alone, she is to be admired and yet others would admire her ability to have survived and succeeded in life academically and ultimately financially with so many obstacl ...more
Ruth Bertram
Jul 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. Wow! WOW!!! I cried, I laughed (like twice) and I relived the injustices of being a small child (albeit on a much smaller scale than the author). Must read for anyone and everyone.
Mar 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
All time favourite. Story about thriving, acceptance and pursuing her dream. I will definitely read it again.
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
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
Sep 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 wall
Aug 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Let me be clear: I don't like memoirs. I read one by accident about two years ago, and I haven't been able to stop. I enjoy reading about people from cultures other than my own and Mrs. Mah is from a culture incredibly different, but one I am interested in. I loved the way the story was told and I felt somewhat bad for Niang. I wondered if she wasn't abused emotionally as a child herself, with the way she treated her stepchildren and then her own. I wish we could have gotten a bit of Niang's sid ...more
Lezlee Hays
Aug 04, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Adeline Yen Mah's memoir is interesting from several vantage points: spanning her childhood in china, young adulthood in England and the remainder of her life in California, her story is one that lends great context to the pre-world war 2 china and it's transition to communism following the revolution. But her story is really about yearning for love and acceptance in an extremely difficult family and ultimately the will to survive and triumph.
Bechai Jalea
Mar 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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.

Maya Shumowsky
Apr 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Adeline Yen Man's memoir is truly a story of a will to thrive. Growing up with a stepmother and father who never showed her love or acceptance, and siblings taught to turn on each other, her life was filled with family betrayal and manipulation to the highest level. Despite everything, Adeline pushes through all the obstacles meant to break her spirit to come out successful and finding true happiness and love on the other side. ...more
Oct 19, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I was surprised I enjoyed this book as much as I did. It was a good story about personal resilience. It also highlighted how powerful the need to be loved and accepted is. I also enjoyed learning more about Chinese culture and history. The author did a good job keeping it relevant to the story.
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Goodreads Librari...: Please correct page count 1 19 May 25, 2017 12:36AM  
Theme Projects 2016: Matthew's "Falling Leaves" Poetry Recommendation 1 6 Feb 03, 2016 07:13PM  
Theme Projects 2016: Angelesia Ma's "Falling Leaves" Play List 1 27 Feb 02, 2016 04:05AM  
Falling Leaves 6 102 Nov 03, 2012 01:40PM  

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