Sometimes it seems that the best memoirs are about people you’ve never heard of. Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter falls into this category. Author Adeline Yen Mah, a doctor who lives in Southern California, writes about her childhood as the fifth daughter in an unhappy family that lived in Shanghai and Hong Kong. After her mother dies in childbirth and her father marries a selfish woman who thrives on adversity and cruelty, Adeline is ignored and denied. However, Adeline’s intellect shines through and she leaves China to attend college in England and become a doctor. Although her life is never perfect, Adeline makes peace with herself, but not with her family.
This page-turning book (you could read it in one or two days) not only highlights the events and feelings in the author’s life, but it is also a history of China. Born in 1937, the author sets the story against some of the 20th century’s most tumultuous events: the Japanese invasion of China, World War II and the birth and horrors of Communism. Young Adeline won a writing award when she was a teenager. Her gift for writing continues in this compelling and heartbreaking memoir.