FALLING LEAVES by Adeline Yen Mah


The True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter
Email this review


 A well-told ``wicked stepmother'' story, with the vicious backdrop of racial inequality. Growing up in a wealthy Chinese family (first in Tianjin, then in Shanghai), Mah, born in 1937, is considered unlucky because her mother died giving birth to her. Her father marries a beautiful Eurasian woman, Jeanne, whom the children call Niang. Niang begrudges her stepchildren train fare to school while her own children are served tea in their rooms and are treated to beautiful new clothes. Mah's father, Joseph, too, mistreats his first wife's children. The family has a racial hierarchy; in marrying a partly French woman, Joseph hoped to improve his social statushis full-blooded Chinese children probably reminded him that he, too, was Chinese. But Mah, more willing than the others to defy Niang, is singled out for cruelty. The other six children, following Niang's lead, pick on her, too. She is physically beaten and constantly insulted; she isn't allowed to have friends; her beloved pet duckling is fed to her parents' dog, deliberately and for sport. Her childhood is only bearable because her aunt Baba loves her and believes she's destined for success. An exceptional student, Mah is allowed to study medicine in England, where, free of her stepmother, she is happier than she's ever been. Eventually settling in the US, she marries, divorces, and finds happiness in motherhood, her work as a doctor, and an eventual second marriage. But the Yen family drama goes on: When Joseph dies, Niang cheats all of the children out of his fortune. Then when Niang dies, Mah, who thought she was on good terms with her stepmother toward the end, finds herself completely and inexplicably disowned. The betrayals and conspiracies surrounding that incident are nearly as chilling as those she suffered in her childhood. A compelling story of family cruelty.

Pub Date: March 13th, 1998
ISBN: 0-471-24742-1
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Wiley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1998


IndieA Silent Strong Man by Judy Cheng
by Judy Cheng