Falling leaves return to their roots

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Penguin, 1997 - Biography & Autobiography - 278 pages
2 Reviews
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 dramais played against the extraordinary political events in China and Hong Kong. Written with the emotional force of a novel but with a vividness drawn from a personal and political background. FALLING LEAVES has become a surprise bestseller all over the world.

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A wonderful, touching read. Really cuts close to the heart without being over-reaching. Indeed, Mah does what most writers dream about doing: showing a sad story and invoking pity without once asking for it. Her style is clear, journalistic, and artistic - there are passages that seem like dreams, passages that seem like reports. Her seamless transition between oceans and continents is a marvel. This is one of my favorite nonfiction books simply because it is such a great story, so well written and evocative in its truth.
While asking the big questions concerning identity, family, and justice, Mah also depicts the portrait of a lonely girl growing up in a home where she is almost completely ignored. The backdrop of historical China adds to the story and mirrors it in some ways. The fact that Mah is able to make something of herself despite her painful upbringing brought tears to my eyes. She is a master storyteller and an inspiration to boot.
Pick up "Falling Leaves" this winter for some good fireside reading. I would give this book six stars if I could.



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About the author (1997)

Although Adeline Yen Mah was born into a wealthy family in Tianjin, China in 1937, her childhood was an unhappy one. Born female in a culture that often devalues women, her situation was made worse by the fact that her family blamed Yen Mah for her mother's death, which occurred just after she was born. Her autobiography, Falling Leaves: The True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter, details the emotional abuse she suffered from her father, siblings and, in particular, her stepmother. Most notable was the fact that her family, fleeing to Hong Kong in 1948 as the Communist army gained control of China, initially left the 10-year-old Yen Mah behind, in a boarding school in northern China. An international play-writing competition made it possible for Yen Mah to escape her unhappy family life when she was 14. She won the competition, and this convinced her father to send her to a boarding school in England. Yen Mah remained in England for 11 years, attending college and earning a medical degree. When she returned to Hong Kong in 1963 to do an internship, however, Yen Mah found that her family's attitude toward her had not improved. She left again, this time to accept a residency in the United States. In the U.S., Yen Mah found professional success, eventually becoming the chief of anesthesiology at Anaheim Community Hospital in California. She also found personal happiness with her second husband, Bob Mah, and their two children. However, she was always troubled by her estrangement from her father and stepmother, and after their deaths she went through a period of severe depression. She began writing Falling Leaves as a way to work through her feelings of rejection, never imagining that her story would become an international bestseller.