Falling Leaves

Rithy Odom / Khmer Times No Comments Share:

Born in 1937, Adeline Yen Mah is the youngest child in her family. She was fortunate to be born in one of the most affluent families during the time when China’s cultural and political upheaval was evident. However, even with such privilege, Adeline faced emotional and mental abuses from her relatives, particularly her Eurasian stepmother. Adeline was seen as a curse to the family after her biological mother died when she was born – a Chinese superstition that has pre-drawn her life of abuses and sorrow.

Despite being emotionally abandoned, Adeline Yen Mah struggled every day during her childhood to seek basic human recognition, understanding and love from her family. She was determined to get quality education for herself. Despite her parents’ disapproval, Adeline went to schools in Hong Kong, United Kingdom and the US, where she eventually met her husband and became a writer.

This story is painful and appalling – revealing a girl’s struggle and rare triumphs as she reaches adulthood. Growing in a society where women are considered inferior, the story shed light into development and reality of the contemporary Chinese society where man remains on top of the ladder – in the family, in the corporate world and in the society as a whole.

Many readers will get hooked into Adeline’s memoir as it gives an honest and deeply personal perspective of how a “Chinese Cinderella” lives. It is devastating to know how an innocent child like Adeline, who was cursed from the day she was born, was maltreated and given no love and respect in a home where she was supposed to feel comfort and solace. The only people who chose to love Adeline were her aunt and grandparents. But they all died one after the other before Adeline could even succeed in her dreams of breaking the spell casted upon her by her own family.

I find the story absolutely intriguing, realistic and somehow unacceptable if considered against present-day human rights calls, particularly for children. Adeline Yen Mah was born and raised in a colonial district for the privileged in Tianjin, later Shanghai and Hong Kong. Her siblings include her ungrateful older sister, Lydia; and, three older brothers, Edgar, Gregory and James. When her father married her stepmother, Adeline then had Franklin and Susan as her half-siblings.

With all the she had been through, Adeline became the woman that she is today – a respected physician, loving wife and thoughtful mother to her two children. She never gained the love she hoped to get from her family, but Adeline nevertheless succeeded to break from the curse she was put into by a culture that, sadly, failed to protect her rights.

The book costs around USD7 and it is definitely a good read for biography addicts. It’s both depressing and exciting to see Adeline’s journey to get hold of her life again. You can find this masterpiece at D’s Book and Monument.

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