Title: Falling Leaves
Author: Adeline Yen Mah
Rating Out of 5: 4.5 (Amazing, but not quite perfect)
My Bookshelves: Biographies, Non-fiction, True stories
Publisher: Penguin books
5th sentence, 74th page: Forget the Kung Fu masters and martial arts and all that foolishness.
Adeline Yen Mah’s childhood in China during the civil war was a time of fear, isolation and humiliation. The cause of this was not political upheaval but systematic emotional and physical abuse by her step-mother and sibling, and rejection by her father. Falling Leaves is the story of a ‘Fifth Younger Daughter’ and her determination to survive the pain of a lonely childhood.
It is honestly difficult to believe the depths of despair and tragedy which some people experience, and although it was an incredibly sobering experience reading of this in Falling Leaves, it was also a fantastic journey full of hope and strength. Not only did Falling Leaves remind me to never take anything for granted, but it was also a reminder that if you persevere, it is only you that can ultimately save or destroy your own future. Granted, some, like Adeline, definitely have all of the cards stacked against them – I can’t imagine the kind of life that she has led. But, in spite of all of this difficulty in her life, she managed to triumph and the woman who shines from the pages of this book is not only shrouded in her honesty and humility, but a light that can never possibly be dimmed.
There is something about true stories that bring out the most terrifying villain. The worst villains created in fantasy and fiction cannot hold a light to the characters that you know truly existed. Niang in Falling Leaves fits this bill perfectly. Her maliciousness and ability to manipulate others was somehow one of the more sinister things that I have read – the lasting imprint that she leaves on Adeline’s life and that of her family furthers the feeling of unease that lingered throughout my reading of this epic journey.
I’m not someone who knows much about history, especially the political history of most of the world. It isn’t something that has drawn my attention, so it was really nice to discover the upheavals of China in the recent past in a way that was both enlightening but also dramatically interesting. The use of Chinese proverbs and quotes throughout the text, and within the chapter headings helped to illuminate the world in which Adeline was raised.