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Adeline Yen Mah's Falling Leaves: A Powerful and Poignant Story of Survival and Redemption

Adeline Yen Mah's Falling Leaves: A Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter


Falling Leaves is a memoir by Adeline Yen Mah, a Chinese-American author who was born in 1937 in Tianjin, China. The book tells the story of her life as an unwanted daughter in a wealthy and dysfunctional family that was torn apart by the political and social upheavals of the 20th century. It is a tale of abuse, betrayal, loneliness, courage, hope and redemption.

adeline yen mah falling leaves PDF

Adeline Yen Mah was the fifth child and youngest daughter of a successful businessman and his first wife, who died shortly after giving birth to her. Her father remarried a young and beautiful woman, whom Adeline and her siblings called Niang (mother in Chinese). Niang favored her own two children over her stepchildren, and treated Adeline with contempt and cruelty. Adeline was blamed for everything that went wrong in the family, and was denied love, affection, respect and recognition. She was also subjected to physical violence, emotional manipulation, verbal humiliation and financial deprivation.

Despite her hardships, Adeline found solace in books, education, writing and a few kind relatives and friends. She excelled academically, winning scholarships to study medicine in England and America. She also married a Chinese-American doctor, had two children, divorced, remarried, became a successful anesthesiologist, wrote several books, founded a charity for children's education in China, and reconciled with some of her family members before they passed away.

Falling Leaves is a compelling and inspiring memoir that reveals the dark side of Chinese culture and tradition, as well as the bright side of human spirit and potential. It is also a fascinating account of China's history and transformation from a feudal society to a communist regime to a global power.

If you are interested in reading this book, you can download the PDF version from this link. You can also buy the paperback or hardcover edition from online or offline bookstores.

Summary of the book

Childhood in Tianjin and Shanghai

Adeline was born on November 30, 1937, in Tianjin, a port city in northern China. She was the fifth child and youngest daughter of Joseph Yen and his first wife, who died of puerperal fever two weeks after giving birth to her. Her father was a successful businessman who owned several companies and properties. Her mother was a well-educated and cultured woman who loved reading and writing.

Adeline's birth was considered unlucky and ominous by her family, especially by her father and her stepmother, Niang, who married her father when Adeline was one year old. Niang was a 17-year-old Eurasian beauty who came from a wealthy and influential family in Shanghai. She had two children with Joseph: Franklin, born in 1939, and Susan, born in 1941. Niang treated her own children with lavish care and attention, while neglecting and mistreating her stepchildren: Lydia, Gregory, Edgar, James and Adeline.

Adeline was the most unwanted and despised child in the family. She was called "Wu Mei", meaning "Fifth Younger Sister", or "Yen Jun-ling", meaning "the one who speaks correctly". She was never addressed by her given name, "Jun-ling", meaning "truthful and smart". She was blamed for her mother's death, her father's unhappiness, her siblings' misfortunes, and her stepmother's wrath. She was constantly scolded, slapped, kicked, pinched, locked up, starved, or ignored by Niang and her father. She was also bullied by her older siblings, who resented her for being smart and obedient.

The only people who showed Adeline some kindness and affection were her maternal grandfather Ye Ye, her maternal aunt Baba, and her older sister Lydia's husband Samuel. Ye Ye and Baba lived with Adeline's family in Tianjin until they moved to Shanghai in 1941 to escape the Japanese invasion. Samuel was a gentle and generous man who married Lydia in 1948. He often gave Adeline books, candies, toys and compliments.

Adeline loved reading and writing since she was a young girl. She learned to read Chinese characters from Ye Ye, who taught her classical poems and stories. She also learned to read English from Samuel, who gave her books like Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. She wrote her first play when she was six years old, inspired by Cinderella. She performed it with her classmates at her school in Tianjin.

Adeline's education was one of the few things that Niang could not take away from her. Adeline attended the best schools in Tianjin and Shanghai, where she excelled in all subjects. She won several awards and prizes for her academic achievements and talents. She also participated in extracurricular activities like drama club, debate team, chess club and sports team. She made some friends at school, but she never invited them to her home or told them about her family situation.

Adolescence in Hong Kong

In 1950, when Adeline was 13 years old, she moved to Hong Kong with her father and Niang. Her older siblings stayed behind in Shanghai to finish their studies or start their careers. Her younger siblings joined them later in Hong Kong.

Adeline's life in Hong Kong was not much better than in China. She lived in a luxurious mansion with her family, but she had no privacy or freedom. She had to share a small room with a maid, who spied on her for Niang. She had to follow strict rules and schedules set by Niang, who controlled every aspect of her life. She had to endure more abuse and humiliation from Niang and her father, who often beat her or berated her for minor mistakes or perceived disobedience.

Adeline's only escape from her misery was school. She attended the Sacred Heart School and College, a prestigious Catholic girls' school run by French nuns. She continued to excel academically, becoming the top student in her class and the head prefect of the school. She also developed some hobbies and interests that gave her joy and confidence. She learned to play the piano, the violin and the guitar. She joined the choir, the orchestra and the drama club. She wrote poems, stories and essays for the school magazine.

Adeline also made some friends at school who supported and encouraged her. One of them was Wu Chun-mei, a rich and popular girl who befriended Adeline despite their different backgrounds. Chun-mei invited Adeline to her birthday party at the Peninsula Hotel, where Adeline met Jack Chen, a handsome and charming boy who liked Adeline's intelligence and personality. Jack became Adeline's first boyfriend.

Adulthood in England and America

In 1952, when Adeline was 15 years old, she won a play-writing competition that changed her life. The prize was a full scholarship to study in England. Adeline seized this opportunity to escape from her family and pursue her dreams. She left Hong Kong without saying goodbye to anyone, except for Jack, who promised to wait for her.

Adeline spent the next eight years in England, studying medicine at the London Hospital Medical School. She graduated with honors and became a physician. She also met and married Byron Bai-lun Soon, a Chinese-American doctor who was doing his residency in London. They moved to California in 1964, where they had two children: Roger and Ann.

Adeline's marriage was not happy. Byron was a workaholic who neglected his wife and children. He also had affairs with other women and abused Adeline verbally and physically. Adeline endured his mistreatment for the sake of her children and her career. She became a successful anesthesiologist and a professor at UCLA Medical Center.

Adeline's relationship with her father and Niang remained strained and distant. They rarely contacted her or visited her in America. They also disinherited her from their wills, leaving all their money and properties to their favored children and grandchildren. Adeline tried to appeal to their sense of justice and fairness, but they ignored or rejected her pleas.

Adeline's relationship with her siblings was also complicated and conflicted. Some of them were supportive and friendly, while others were hostile and jealous. They often fought over their parents' inheritance and their family history. Adeline felt alienated and betrayed by some of them, especially by Lydia, who sided with Niang against her.

Adeline's life took a positive turn in 1981, when she divorced Byron and married Robert Mah, a tax attorney who loved and respected her. She also published her first book, Chinese Cinderella, a children's version of her memoir. She received positive feedback and recognition from readers and critics. She also reconnected with some of her family members who apologized or reconciled with her before they died.

Analysis of the book

Themes and messages

Falling Leaves is a memoir that explores several themes and messages that are relevant and universal to readers of different backgrounds and cultures. Some of these themes and messages are:

- The impact of family dynamics on personal identity: Adeline's memoir shows how her family shaped her sense of self-worth, self-esteem, self-confidence, self-expression and self-actualization. She was constantly told that she was worthless, unlovable, unwanted and unworthy by her father and stepmother, who favored their own children over her. She was also influenced by her siblings, who either supported or opposed her. She struggled to find her voice, her place and her purpose in her family and in the world. - The role of culture and tradition in shaping one's life: Adeline's memoir reflects the Chinese culture and tradition that governed her family and society. She was expected to obey, respect and honor her parents, elders and ancestors, regardless of their actions or attitudes. She was also bound by the Confucian values of filial piety, loyalty, harmony and hierarchy. She faced discrimination and prejudice as a female, a minority, a foreigner and an outsider. - The power of resilience and forgiveness in overcoming adversity: Adeline's memoir demonstrates how she overcame the challenges and difficulties that she faced in her life. She used her intelligence, education, talents, passions and dreams as tools to cope with her pain and suffering. She also used her faith, hope, love and compassion as weapons to fight against her anger, resentment, bitterness and hatred. She learned to forgive herself and others for their mistakes and flaws. Style and tone

Style and tone

Falling Leaves is a memoir that uses various stylistic devices and tones to convey the author's story and perspective. Some of these devices and tones are:

- The use of Chinese proverbs and historical references: Adeline sprinkles her memoir with Chinese proverbs and historical references that illustrate her cultural background and worldview. For example, she quotes the famous saying "falling leaves return to their roots" to express her longing for her mother and her homeland. She also mentions the events and figures that shaped China's history, such as the Opium War, the Boxer Rebellion, the Kuomintang, the Communist Party, Mao Zedong, Chiang Kai-shek, etc. - The blend of autobiography and fiction: Adeline admits that some parts of her memoir are based on her imagination and memory, rather than on factual evidence. She says that she changed some names, dates, places and details to protect the privacy of some people or to enhance the readability of her story. She also says that she reconstructed some dialogues and scenes from her childhood based on what she remembered or imagined. She claims that she did not intend to distort or embellish the truth, but to present it as she perceived it. - The balance of emotion and objectivity: Adeline writes her memoir with a mixture of emotion and objectivity. She does not shy away from expressing her feelings of anger, sadness, fear, joy, love and gratitude. She also does not hesitate to criticize or praise her family members and others who influenced her life. However, she also tries to be fair and balanced in her portrayal of them. She acknowledges their strengths and weaknesses, their motives and actions, their virtues and vices. She also tries to understand them from their own perspectives and contexts. Conclusion

Falling Leaves is a memoir that tells the story of Adeline Yen Mah, an unwanted Chinese daughter who survived and thrived in a hostile and turbulent world. It is a story of pain and triumph, of rejection and acceptance, of loss and gain. It is a story that reveals the dark and light sides of human nature, as well as the complex and diverse facets of Chinese culture.

I enjoyed reading this book because it was engaging, informative and inspiring. It gave me a glimpse into a different time and place, as well as a different life and experience. It also taught me some valuable lessons about family, culture, identity, resilience and forgiveness.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about China's history and society, or who is looking for a personal and powerful memoir that touches the heart and mind.


Here are some frequently asked questions and answers about the book:

- Q: Is Falling Leaves a true story? - A: Yes, Falling Leaves is based on Adeline Yen Mah's real life story. However, some parts of the book are fictionalized or modified by the author for literary purposes. - Q: What is the difference between Falling Leaves and Chinese Cinderella? - A: Falling Leaves is the adult version of Adeline Yen Mah's memoir, while Chinese Cinderella is the children's version. Falling Leaves covers Adeline's entire life from birth to adulthood, while Chinese Cinderella focuses on her childhood until she left for England at age 15. Falling Leaves also contains more details, descriptions and analysis than Chinese Cinderella. - Q: How did Adeline Yen Mah become a writer? - A: Adeline Yen Mah became a writer after she retired from her medical career in 1994. She decided to write her memoir as a way of honoring her mother's memory and fulfilling her childhood dream. She also wanted to share her story with others who might relate to or learn from it. - Q: What happened to Adeline Yen Mah's family after she published her memoir? - A: Adeline Yen Mah's family had mixed reactions to her memoir. Some of them were supportive and proud of her achievement, while others were angry and embarrassed by her exposure of their secrets. Some of them also disputed or denied some of the facts or events that she wrote about. Adeline tried to maintain contact with them, but some of them cut off ties with her. - Q: Where is Adeline Yen Mah now? - A: Adeline Yen Mah now lives in California and London with her husband Robert Mah. She is still active as a writer, speaker and philanthropist. She has published several other books, such as Watching the Tree, A Thousand Pieces of Gold, China: Land of Dragons and Emperors, and Chinese Cinderella and the Secret Dragon Society. She has also founded the Falling Leaves Foundation, a charity that supports children's education in China. 71b2f0854b


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