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‘Very rich insight’ | Falling Leaves | Adeline Yen Mah | Ray Noyes

This is the autobiography of the author who was born in Tianjin Province in China in 1937. Her mother died shortly after childbirth and as a result she, the baby, was blamed for bringing bad luck to the family. Her father re-married and his new wife rejected her treating her cruelly. Their only reluctant act of kindness was to get rid of her by sending her to be educated in England.

There she fell in love and married, obtained qualifications in medicine and eventually practised in California. Her siblings, meanwhile competed for the huge family fortune built up by her father, a successful businessman.

Love and respect in the family were in short supply. Rivalries and outright hatred amongst them were common, the cruellest of them all being Adeline’s step-mother, Niang, who abused severely not only all her own children and step-children but also Adeline’s grandparents and aunt. Niang’s final act of cruelty on her death bed was to exclude Adaline from her inheritance.

This story could easily be a depressing one of sadness and desperation, but it lifts itself out of the darkness by the light of Adeline’s determination to survive and to love – a love contrasting starkly with the pathological cruelty of her parents, especially her mother.

Because it is set in the years both preceding and following the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997, it provides an enlightening narrative of the changes experienced by inhabitants living in the territory itself and the adjacent Chinese provinces. But this period of change was as nothing compared to the much earlier invasion of China by the Japanese during the war and followed by the tyranny of the Red Guards of the Revolution, when Adeline’s father’s businesses were threatened and her aged grandparents forcibly evicted from their homes.

All in all, a very rich insight not only into Chinese family life but also into the terrifying forces at work during periods of political turmoil.

This is an edited version of the review which was first published on the author’s Facebook page in June 2018.

The flower-themed cover fits nicely with the book’s title

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‘Very rich insight’ | Falling Leaves | Adeline Yen Mah | Ray Noyes

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