REVIEW #34 | “Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter” by Adeline Yen Mah

Title: “Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter”

Author: Adeline Yen Mah

Pages (paperback): 278 pages

Original Publishing Date: 5 March 1997

Synopsis (from the inside flap):

“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. 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.”

Trigger/Content warnings for the novel:

  • child abuse
  • emotional abuse
  • physical abuse
  • mention of child slavery/sex slavery

Representation in the novel:

  • N/A

⭐⭐⭐⭐ .5
4.5/5 stars

I remember buying Falling Leaves at Target a few years ago; it was definitely an impulse buy. I just now got to it, and wow it was something.

Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah is exactly what it sounds like. It is about Adeline Yen Mah and her family, from before she was born to when she is in her 30s. She goes into detail about her family and how most of them treated her horribly, even as adults. On top of that, parts of Chinese culture during the 30s and 40s were also discussed as it related to Yen Mah and her family. That was pretty interesting to learn about, I must say.

This book is something that one is uncomfortable with liking; well, I was uncomfortable, at least. The writing itself is very good: I flew through the book in a matter of days. The use of narrative is so good for this memoir; the reader really gets sucked into the stories. And that is really what it is: a number of small stories throughout the overarching novel. Each chapter title is some sort of saying in Chinese translated to English, and the events in the chapter correlate to the saying. I really enjoyed the format of the book.

However, it makes me uncomfortable liking it because of some of the content within the book. It includes accounts of physical abuse, domestic violence, and emotional abuse. And this is not necessarily a book with a happy ending, either. I had to stop quite a few times because of certain scenes and how cruel the stepmother and others could be, not only to Adeline, but the whole family.

Overall, though, this was both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Adeline has lived a hard life, with many unloving people in her life. However, there are also a few people, either family like her Aunt Baba or partners like Bob, that have shown her love and compassion. I thought “Falling Leaves” was beautifully written, and if you can, I would urge everyone to read it.

6 thoughts on “REVIEW #34 | “Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter” by Adeline Yen Mah

  1. Great idea to involve a section for diversity in the novel! Books with distressing content can be very difficult to review but I’m glad you separated the writing itself from the content because I think it is very important to recognise that books about difficult topics can be very well written

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, do you mean the little representation portion before the review? Thank you! I don’t usually put anything for it for non-fiction novels, though.

      And thank you for the kind words! It was hard to read, but I’m glad I did so; I think these sorts of stories are important to get out there. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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