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Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter Paperback – April 6, 1999

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 278 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (April 6, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767903579
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767903578
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (465 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #57,605 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Snow White's stepmother looks like a pussycat compared to the monster under which Adeline Yen Mah suffered. The author's memoir of life in mainland China and--after the 1949 revolution--Hong Kong is a gruesome chronicle of nonstop emotional abuse from her wealthy father and his beautiful, cruel second wife. Chinese proverbs scattered throughout the text pithily covey the traditional world view that prompted Adeline's subservience. Had she not escaped to America, where she experienced a fulfilling medical career and a happy marriage, her story would be unbearable; instead, it's grimly fascinating: Falling Leaves is an Asian Mommie Dearest. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Although the focus of this memoir is the author's struggle to be loved by a family that treated her cruelly, it is more notable for its portrait of the domestic affairs of an immensely wealthy, Westernized Chinese family in Shanghai as the city evolved under the harsh strictures of Mao and Deng. Yen Mah's father knew how to make money and survive, regardless of the regime in power. In addition to an assortment of profitable enterprises, he stashed away two tons of gold in a Swiss bank, and eventually the family fled to Hong Kong. But he was indifferent to his seven children and in the thrall of a second wife who makes Cinderella's stepmother seem angelic. His first wife, Yen Mah's mother, died at her birth, and the child, considered an ill omen, was treated with crushing severity. But she was encouraged by the love of an aunt and eventually made her way to the U.S., where she became a doctor, married happily and, ironically, was the one her father and stepmother turned to in their old age. In recounting this painful tale, Yen Mah's unadorned prose is powerful, her insights keen and her portrait of her family devastating.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

Falling Leaves tells the heart-rending story of Adeline Yen Mah.
Kent M.
This is a truly amazing story of one girl's instinct to survive and triumph over the challenges life threw at her.
Ashley H.
The characters in the book were not real to me, because everyone is either black or white, good or evil.
B. Mak

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

127 of 138 people found the following review helpful By Roz Levine on August 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In 1937, Adeline Yen Mah's mother died giving birth to her. Because of this, she was considered "bad luck", tormented by her siblings and shunned by her father. Her father soon remarried a beautiful, young Eurasian woman who was cruel and manipulative. She treated all five of her stepchildren badly, but saved her real hatred for Adeline. Falling Leaves is the powerful, riveting memoir of emotional abuse and isolation that Ms Yen Mah suffered at the hands of her stepmother. At this point, most would say, "Why would I want to torture myself by reading a book about child abuse?" The answer is simple...Adeline Yen Mah didn't just survive her childhood, she triumphed. With great wisdom and insight, she tells a story not just about her life, but the life of China, before and after the cultural revolution and how both were changed forever. Despite her miserable childhood, she excelled, became a doctor, married and found freedom and a new life in America. This is an amazing, compelling story, told by an amazing woman who was not only able to put the past behind her, but was able to celebrate life and move forward.
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49 of 55 people found the following review helpful By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
Adeline Yen Mah, in "Falling Leaves," accomplishes many things. She has written a searingly honest memoir of her miserable childhood in China. In addition, she provides a colorful and lively description of the customs, history and social upheaval of China from roughly the late 1800's until the 1970's. Adeline was the daughter of a prosperous businessman, Joseph Yen, who was happily married to a woman he adored. He had five children, the youngest of whom, Adeline, is the author of this book. Tragically, Adeline's mother died of an infection shortly after she was born, and Adeline never knew her mother. To compound the tragedy, Adeline's father soon married a woman so cruel and so inhuman that she was comparable to the stereotype of the "wicked stepmother" in the story of Cinderella. "Niang," as Jeanne Prosperi Yen was called by her stepchildren, was a "control freak". She manipulated her husband and children; she verbally and physically abused the children who were "out of favor" with her; and she used money to control the family dynamics even after her death. Adeline's story is how she managed to grow up whole in spite of a loveless childhood. She turned for solace most of all to her beloved "Aunt Baba," who loved Adeline unconditionally and was truly proud of her, and Adeline took great delight in doing schoolwork, which brought her great intellectual and emotional satisfaction. Mah brings alive a large cast of characters, stoically recounting many tales of deep sorrow that must have wounded her greatly. She makes the streets of China come alive with her vivid descriptions of the sights and sounds of such cities as Shanghai, Tianjin and Hong Kong. "Falling Leaves" is an intensely psychological and personal memoir.Read more ›
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By xiguan on January 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
To kill time while i was having IV injections in a hospital bed, i picked up the book. To my surprise, i was compelled to reading it through for the next one day and one night, promting plenty of complains from my doctor and nurses. However, i simply could not put down the book. The story, or Adeline's life experience was so disturbingly painful, but her description was so powerful. As a Chinese born also in Shanghai, i comprehend and appreciate fully the circumstances and historical evens surrounding the family, the city (Shanghai, Tianjin and Hong Kong) as well the country. Her life-time search for family acceptance and love in a loveless family was so painstakingly persistent that i found myself more than once crying. Human nature was distorted by greed, jealousy and ego-mania. In her case, human nature was further distorted by complications of a political movement in China. China's Culture Revolution, in particular, has twisted many people's consciousness, sharpening their knives against their own family members, friends and many other innocent people. In this case, i found Lydia is equally ugly as Niang. Even though Adeline's growing life was tough beyond imagination, Adeline didn't seem to stop smiling, caring for others, looking for the bright future and having wonderful sense of humor, for that, i admire her courage. The book is also beautifully versed with excellent insertions of Chinese proverbs, further evidence of her ability of winning a world writing award even as a young girl. If any improvement, i just wish the ending is not so abrupt. Life has not done her justice yet. I hope she will have a sequal. I also sincerely hope the Yen family ugliness will not pass on to the third generation as already shown in Lydia's family.
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43 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Christina Coulter on March 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
This was one of the most touching stories I have ever read; it is beautifuly written and heartrenching, yet warms the spirit to hear of such a strong soul! I cried at the injustices Adeline suffered at the hands of her father and especially her step-mother. I was also moved to tears by the injustice endured by her family at the hands of the angry mobs in revolutionary China. I was overjoyed and excited for her in her triumphs. I came to feel love and care for this amazing young woman from China, a place so foriegn to me. I came to better understand what compels others to do things not in their own best intrests in order to gain the acceptance and affection of a loved one. I believe we should thank Ms. Adeline Yen Mah for her courage and strengh and her gift to us, that of sharing her amazing spirit with her readers. I encountered great difficulty putting this book down, and when not reading I found myself thinking of the story! A wonderful literary expierience for anyone!
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