Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah

Chinese Cinderella is the story of an unwanted daughter in China during World War II. Adeline Yen Mah was hated by most of her family. Her mom died while giving birth to her, so she is seen as bad luck. Adeline’s father then remarries a horrible stepmother called Niang. Niang always puts her two children above Adeline and her siblings. The people Adeline goes to for comfort are Ye Ye and Aunt Baba. It is apparent that Niang is now the matriarch of the family. Niang frequently gets angry at Adeline and accuses her of multiple things. Adeline is also constantly at war with her older sister. They constantly fight about who gets what room and who sleeps where. Eventually their relationship does get better. Then, on Adeline’s sisters’ wedding, Niang goes through her presents and keeps a jade pendant and keeps it for herself. As Adeline is going to tell her sister about the pendant, Niang tells her to go out to the balcony with her. Adeline then learns that Niang let her sister keep the pendant. Adeline does extremely well in school winning several prizes for writing, but that isn’t enough to please her hateful parents. She then goes on to go to college with her brother and continues writing. Adeline’s life improves very quickly through this and she becomes very happy.

Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah

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.

-Maya S.

The works of Adeline Yen Mah are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.