Upon reading Mah’s Chinese Cinderella and its sequel, I recently was made aware of a precursor and her official autobiography. Entitled Falling Leaves, the book follows the same plot line as her other two works. However, what made it different was the voice Mah used as the story of her life progressed.
Little Adeline, originally Mǎ Yán Jūnlíng, was born into a high-class family in Tianjin, China. Her mother, the light of her father’s life, died shortly after giving birth to Adeline. This did not raise the youngest child’s status in the family. From a young age, Adeline received nothing but resentment and mistreatment from her family, with the exception of her kind Aunt Baba. Under the direction of the late mistress of the Yen household, Aunt Baba became Adeline’s surrogate mother. But, Adeline was persistent to win her father’s attention, through and through, even to his deathbed. She consistently was awarded medals and perfect report cards. On few occasions, her father would notice, but with the addition of a new stepmother, Niang, Mr. Yen sent Adeline to boarding school. Where, throughout the years she spent there, nobody paid her a single visit.
As Mah takes the reader throughout her painful life, she not only follows her own story, but retells her family’s (if they could ever be called that), so when the story concludes, all the pieces come together. And, in Adeline’s case, quite heartbreakingly.
What Mah has written truly shows the willpower of human sufferance. War-torn countries and refugees have stories worth sharing, inspiring the fortunate people of the free world. However, within what may seem to be a noble Chinese household, the step-children, in particular the youngest girl, find a similar fates. Though found the library’s adult section as it contains more mature content, I fully recommend Mah’s autobiography.
The works of Adeline Yen Mah are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.