The emotionally wrenching yet ultimately uplifting memoir of a Chinese woman struggling to win the love and acceptance of her family.
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 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.
"Riveting. A marvel of memory. Poignant proof of the human will to endure." —Amy Tan"I read for two nights, sleepless, my heart pierced by Adeline Yen Mah's account of her terrible childhood.Falling Leaves
is a potent psychological drama pitting a stubborn little girl against the most merciless of adversaries and rivals: her own family. I am still haunted by Mah's memoir." —Amy Tan, author ofThe Joy Luck Club
"Painful and lovely, at once heartbreaking and heartening."—Jonathan Yardley,Washington Post
"Brilliant, compelling, and unforgettable. A heartrending modern-day Cinderella story set against the turbulence of twentieth-century China. Autobiography at its best."—Nien Chang, author ofLife and Death in ShanghaiADELINE YEN MAH
is a physician and writer who lives in Huntington Beach, California, and spends time as well in London and Hong Kong.
1. The basis for the book's title is the Chinese aphorism "falling leaves return to their roots." Why do you think Adeline Yen Mah chose this title? What does it mean in the context of her story?
2. Adeline Yen Mah begins her story with the reading of her father's will. Why do you think she chose this point in time to start her story? How does it set the tone for the book?
3. The author consistently gives the Chinese character, the phonetic spelling, and the English translation when using Chinese phrases. Why do you think she does this? What does it say about her, and how does it affect you?
4. Overall how would you characterize the author's life in China? Was there any happiness for her? What strategies does she use to cope with the situation and who aided her in those efforts? How would you have reacted in similar circumstances?
5. Discuss the social hierarchy of the Yen household. How did Adeline fit in? How about Ye Ye and Aunt Baba?
6. Of the many instances of cruelty that Adeline faced as a child, which ones affected you most strongly? Why?
7. How would you characterize the author's relationship with her Aunt Baba? How about with her grandfather Ye Ye?
8. How did the author's life change once she moved to England? What factors motivated this change? Why was medical school such an appropriate place for her? How did the author change during her stay in Britain? How is she different? How is she the same? How does this affect her career path? How does it affect her relationship with her father and stepmother?
9. During her time in America the author's relationship with her parents and her siblings changes. Discuss these changes and what brought them about.
10. Why do you think the author became involved with Karl and Byron? Why do these relatio