Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah

Falling Leaves
by Adeline Yen Mah

The memoir of an unwanted Chinese daughter, Adeline Yen Mah recounts growing up in an emotionally abusive home and her undying desire for love and acceptance as she finds success as an adult.

This is an interesting memoir, filled with culture and history as world events and Chinese politics affect the family’s business, residence, and relations. I found it fascinating to learn the details of China during this time in the context of a personal account. We also learn updates on the entire family as oppose to only Adeline’s specific memories. Although it adds to the memoir to have all these details outside of Adeline, it also gives a more general, detached perspective of events. Maybe that’s telling of the way the family’s interactions tended to be, but it’s also a contrast to typically personal, reflective memoirs.

While the family’s wealth and connections have the potential to create endless opportunities for the entire family, the children are constantly pitted against one another in their efforts to earn any support from their parents. Maintaining status and keeping up appearances doesn’t ease the toll feeling unloved and unwanted takes on a child. Although Adeline does find success and happiness, the memoir revolves around her immediate family’s strained dynamics. I wish there were a bit more emotional transparency, but I think overall the impact Adeline’s family had on her is apparent.

Heartbreaking and fascinating, I’d recommend this if you’re interested in history, Chinese culture, and tales of seeking personal connection.