Dan Sandman

04: Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah

In Autobiography, Biography, Books, Non-Fiction on 24/01/2014 at 12:00 pm

Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen MahA good autobiography – such as this one I found during a bookshelf reshuffle – will seek to teach and enlighten its readers. It has been in my thoughts for some time, that every person in history has lived in interesting historical times and that we must all have compelling personal stories to tell. However, what makes one person’s story more readable than another’s is the quality of the writing. Skilled biographical writers draw you in with their storytelling skills and knowledge of ¬†history. But in a way, autobiographies present a novel version of the truth, based upon actual events, where real life becomes fictionalized.

The historical context of this life story is twentieth century China, the effects of Westernisation during the first half, the changes that occurred during the Moa era, and its position in today’s world. For the uneducated reader, Adeline Yen Mah elegantly refers to outside events as her own story unfolds. Indeed, this book works as a comprehensive introduction to the period in which the author has lived. Therefore, Yen Mah’s personal story is given extra political significance.

To summarize, the personal side of this story is about difficult family relationships and upsetting financial entanglements. It is told from the perspective of a wealthy family and involves an evil stepmother who would fit comfortably inside any Grimm tale. Throughout her life, the writer is seeking her father’s love, but her father appears more interested in the acquisition of wealth. Although she eventually moves to America, becoming a successful and wealthy doctor, Adeline is unable to reconcile her family relationships. Perhaps the process of writing, of turning her unwanted feelings into a story, has helped her come to terms with her checkered past.

I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in China. Like a good Jane Austen novel, it gives insight into the private lives of the wealthy classes. And yes, money can’t buy me love and money it’s a game (to quote a couple of songs). I enjoyed this memoir, all bound by immaculate prose with the words ‘true’ and ‘story’ sitting uncomfortably juxtaposed.



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