Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah MAG

By Bapalapa2 ELITE, Brooklyn, New York
Bapalapa2 ELITE, Brooklyn, New York
1044 articles 0 photos 1 comment

   If you want to read 300 pages worth of complaints andnothing else, pick up Adeline Yen Mah's Falling Leaves: The True Story of anUnwanted Chinese Daughter. If you're looking for a lack of depth and style, youneed only turn to the first page. With the exception of a good title, there islittle else worth mentioning about this memoir.

In Falling Leaves theauthor recounts a painful childhood; she is the family's scapegoat, picked on byher siblings and abused by her parents. This is intended to be a Cinderella storywith a protagonist triumphing over hardships, with the author herself asCinderella. The hardship are the "evil stepmother" and overbearingsiblings. The setting is mid-20th century Shanghai, China. But the memoir? It isa complete disappointment.

For one thing, Cinderella is one of the oldeststories around. To be successful (and there are many successful ones), an authorneeds to rely on writing, since the plot is already cliché. Unfortunately,Mah's writing lacks every skill imaginable. Her self-pity obscures any meaningthis book might have. A touch of self-pity is reasonable, given the terribleconditions of her childhood, and would even help propel the story.

But itbecomes unbearable when Mah fills the pages with her misery: how she, after beinglost and frightened for hours, returns home to find herself not missed by herfamily; how her beloved pet duckling was used in an experiment that resulted inits death. She suffers immensely, but her writing leaves an unanswered question -"What did she learn from this?"

When our Cinderella leavesShanghai to escape her problems, she has nothing to show for her suffering, andthe memoir draws little connection between her hardships and how they made her abetter person. Already cumbersome with self-pity, the memoir is wanting inanalysis.

This lack of depth might be forgiven if not for Mah'sone-dimensional treatment of characters. Her portrayal of all characters ineither a good or bad light is frustrating. Her stepmother is always evil, hersiblings always bullying. Her aunt, on the other hand, is nothing but kind. Mostannoying is Mah's picture of herself: the young Adeline is nothing short ofangelic. The closest thing to a flaw is giving up her dream to please her father,but this can even be termed self-sacrifice, hardly a flaw.

Mah'sglorification of herself at the expense of others turns off the reader'ssympathy. When she recounts how her "evil stepmother" forced her andher siblings to beg for train fare, she writes how her siblings weakened andbegged, but she simply could not bring herself to do this. Throughout she paintsher siblings as weaklings (with the exception of her youngest sister) and herselfa hero.

If you're searching for triumph over hardship, you'll see that thehardship in Falling Leaves is exaggerated and the triumph glazed over. If you'researching for a thought-provoking memoir, you'll only find a biased, parochialaccount that leaves much to be desired. If you've nothing better to do with yourtime, try it. Otherwise, don't bother.

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This article has 31 comments.

leora said...
on Aug. 6 2011 at 5:17 am
i agree! i loved this book and chinese cinderella. i cried alot! it touched my heart

leora said...
on Aug. 6 2011 at 5:14 am
i agree completely with your comment! this person has no heart!

leora said...
on Aug. 6 2011 at 5:12 am
I can not beleive you! i frown upon this ignorant and useless review. this book was great. it had a great amount of detail which allowed me to picture everything as it happened. this novel touched my heart in such a way, and you are saying it's junk. this is absured! you only dare to say such a thing because you have no idea of the pain and suffering she went through as a child both mentally and physically. plus, here's one little tip for ya; SPACE OUT YOUR WORDS!

G92Norway said...
on Apr. 22 2011 at 3:47 pm
I haven't read this book, but I've read "Chinese Cinderella", and as I have understood it, they contain much of the same content and are dealing with many of the same issues. Of course, I can't argue against your accusations since I haven't read the book. But I want to say something anyway since your view on the storyteller somehow got to me. I beleive we are in no position to judge how she presents the characters in the story - we have not experienced or seen what she has. Maybe she being the "hero", her brothers and sister being weak and her stepmother evil were just how it was - at least most of the time. And after being both physically and mentally abused by these persons, why would she bother being analytic and see them from each and every angle when she for once has the opportunity to raise her voice and speak her mind?
I on the other hand can recommand the book "Chinese Cinderella" by Adeline Yen Mah - great book!

lily said...
on Nov. 7 2010 at 8:44 am
I read  book five years ago. That's amazing! I've never read the book like that . I cried while I was reading it. It's so touchable! I've got a copy but I want to have an original ,but I can't find it anywhere. If someone can help me , please write.

on Aug. 8 2010 at 8:59 pm
DiamondsIntheGrass GOLD, Martinsville, New Jersey
14 articles 1 photo 279 comments

Favorite Quote:
Worry is simply a misuse of the imagination.

i have not read this book, but i read the Chinese Cinderella.  i believe that that book was amazing.  It made me cry quite a few times.  did you read that book?  if you havent, you should try it.  what do you think about it?

Kate said...
on Jun. 21 2010 at 3:22 pm

While I didn't see it while I read it, you gave picked out the flaws in Yen Mah's book. Considering, however, English is her 2nd language, the way it is written should be over looked and only the most critical critics should use against her. You are also right about how she uses a lot of self pity, but seeing as this book was used for her to emotionally cleanse herself, this too is not a major flaw. It is a somewhat...deceiving factor when she  neglects to mention any redeeming qualities in her stepmother and siblings. But as a child, is this not how we think? The same goes for the Aunt. This is a memoir into her childhood and as a child this was how she saw people. And in each person's mind, aren't all our actions flawless? We see our intentions.

One last point I'd like to mention is the complete difference in culture. America and China, although allies, are very different.

celesti said...
on Mar. 1 2010 at 6:38 am
How Can you say that!!

I wonder what would you have done if you were in her place. you would have ran away from house because you couldn't bare the torture and later you would have starve to death. She is my Idol. She is such a brave girl and now she showed the world that everyone is special and precious. I enjoyed the story. My whole school was reading this book and they not only like but they love this book including Adeline. So you are so wrong. Thank-x to all who likes Adeline and the one who hates her" YOU ALL SUCK"!!!

Nasrin said...
on Jan. 30 2010 at 5:59 pm

You are so exactly spot on right. That is exactly how I felt reading this book. Further, Adeline has absolutely no self-awareness. For instance, she shows no understanding why her niece would resent her perpetuating the idea that boys are best by paying the full freight for the nephew to follow his bliss and study piano in any school he chose, while the niece's only option was to attend a school that would offer her a full scholarship. That sounds exactly like Adelaine's complaints about her own schooling. She also seems to think that her father naming her in the will but excluding her sister was in any different from her step-mother naming that sister and excluding her. It was the exact same manipulation of playing the kids against each other, and its shocking how she fails to realize it.

anna said...
on Oct. 20 2009 at 10:46 pm
you have no feelings for people in need.heartless. Adeline was a brave little girl and I am so glad she was triumphant!

Lexi said...
on Sep. 17 2009 at 5:01 pm
You are so MEAN!!! that book was great.

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