Falling Leaves

By Adeline Yen Mah

"All people are your relatives, therefore only expect trouble from them."- Chinese Proverb
"In a broken nest there are a few whole eggs"- Chinese Proverb
"The journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step"- Chinese Proverb


Adeline Yen Mah

orangecounty.jpg Adeline Yen Mah was born in Tianjin, China and lived in Shanghai as a small child. At the Age of eleven she moved to Hong Kong, and

at the age of fourteen Adeline won an international writing competition and then moved to London. She later graduated from London Hospital Medical School and moved to California where she become the chief of anesthesia. Her husband Bob is a Professor of Microbiology at UCLA. They have two children together, their son, an anesthesiologist in Santa Monica and their daughter who works in publishing in New York City.

Falling Leaves was Adeline Yen Mah's first book ever published, in 1997. It sold over one million copies world-wide and was translated into eighteen languages. The second book she published was titled Chinese Cinderella which was published in 1999 and sold over five hundred thousand copies world-wide and also received an award from the Children's Literature Council of Southern California in 2000 for her compelling autobiography.

Adeline Yen Mah has completed four books total and has recently signed a contract to write a fifth book which will be another children's book.


Chapters 1-8
  • Cheques- (British) check (V). To stop or arrest the motion suddenly.
  • Resplendent- (V). Radiant, to shine brightly.
  • Ostensibly- (Adj). Outwardly appearing as such; professed;pretend;apparent, evident.
  • Pestilence- (N). Deadly or virulent epidemic disease.
  • Squalor- (N). The condition of being squalid, filth and misery.
Chapters 9-16
  • Anesthetist- (N). person who administers anesthetics or sedatives and is a trained doctor.
  • Disown- (V). To refuse to acknowledge as belonging or pertaining to oneself; to deny the ownership of or responsibility for.
  • Pigeonhole- (N). One of a series of small, open, compartments as in a desk, cabinet, or the like.
  • Indelible- (Adj). Making marks that cannot be erased or removed.
  • Persimmons- (N). Any of several trees of the genus.
Chapters 17-24
  • Inconveniencing- (N). The quality or state of being inconvenient.
  • Concierge- (N). (esp in France) Person who has charge of the entrance of a building and is often the owners representative; a door keeper.
  • Crestfallen- (Adj). Dejected, discouraged.
  • Browbeaten- (V). To intimidate by overbearing looks or words; bully.
  • Affidavit- (N). A written declaration upon oath made before an authorized official.
Chapters 25-32
  • Incredulous- (Adj). Disinclined or indisposed to believe; skeptical.
  • Adamant- (Adj). utterly unyielding in attitude or opinion in spite of all appeals, urgings, etc.
  • Hanker- (V). To have a restless or incessant longing.
  • Mottled- (Adj). Spotted or blotched in coloring
  • Elation- (N). A feeling or state of great joy or pride; High spirits.

Setting Explanation
Falling Leaves takes place in China during the 1900s. The main Chinese cities mentioned in the novel are Shanghai, Tianjin, and Hong Kong. 2183617755_96a41d21c0_b.jpgDuring this time period, China is beginning to leave the dynasty mindset and following the Western culture. Children were being raised to speak English and practice more western ways of life.. The setting briefly switches to England when Adeline goes to college and medical school.


Themes of
Falling Leaves
~You have to accept where you come from and learn to rise above what has happened to you and become as great as you can be.
~Struggling can lead to being a stronger, resilient, and more compassionate person in the end and can allow the person to prove what they have been told wrong.
~In Chinese culture respect is the highest requirement and without giving parents the respect they believe they deserve the parents treat the child cruelly.

~One is always tied to one’s family in some way, despite whatever injustices may have been served, despite whatever grudges and tensions there may be between family members.
~Every person is in a search for acceptance, love, and understanding.

Character Descriptions

fallingportraitsc.jpgAdeline- she is the protagonist of the novel. She is one of 6 children in the Yen family. She has a strong interest in books and later proves her intelligence. Later, she attends medical school and eventually overcomes her life struggles.

YeYe- He is the father of Jeanne Prosperi Yen, Adeline’s father. He was a company manager; Hwa Chong Hong prospered under his leadership. He believed in and invested in father’s own business. Adeline adored YeYe. He remained a strict Buddhist. He developed diabetes later in life and died from the disease.

Jeanne Yen- Adeline’s father. He has animosity toward and blames Adeline for his wife’s death. He remarries to Niang. After a change in Chinese community, he switches to a neon lighting business. He becomes ill and is diagnosed with generalized brain atrophy due to Alzheimer’s disease. He dies from the disease.

Niang- Adelines’s step-mother. Although she had two children herself, she favored Franklin. She was mean and unappreciative to the other (Jeanne’s) children and was known to be deceitful. She became aggravated with Susan and Jeanne’s close relationship. The “nicest” thing that she ever did for Adeline was to advise Adeline to leave Byron. Toward the end of Jeanne’s life, she became very controlling and tried to dominate.

Karl Decker- He was a thirty-four-year-old German who was one of Adeline’s lecturers at the University College in Bloomsbury. Adeline described him to be earnest, intelligent, sensitive, tall and handsome. They later began meeting in his lab regularly and having an affair. They wrote letters to each other. He never took the time to understand her Chinese culture. They later broke up because of their differences.

Byron- Adeline’s first husband. At first he was very loving and kind in order to win her over. As soon as they became married, he was rude and abusive. Although they did have a child together, their love was practically none existent. He later opened up and lost a Chinese restaurant. Adeline and Byron got a divorce within a few years.

Susan- Adeline’s sister. She, along with Franklin, was the favored and privileged. Jeanne was very proud of and flaunted her beauty Niang was jealous of her.. She is later disowned from the Yen family.

Lydia- Adeline’s oldest sister. Jeanne and Niang feared for her because she never excelled in school along with her handicapped left arm. She and her husband, Samuel Sung, fled the Communists in January 1949. She is later disowned in 1951.

James- Adeline’s third eldest brother. She adored him. He encouraged Adeline to go off to school in England and served as her backbone.

Samuel- Lydia’s husband. He was very educated, short, and nearly bald. Susan was very fond of him.

Edgar- Adeline’s brother. He was a bully during childhood and grew to be a malicious man and brother.


Chapters 1-8
  1. What are high-achieving women within a clan called?
  2. Why was Aunt Baba told to drop out of school?
  3. Why did Adeline never get to see her mother?
  4. How was Adeline treated by her family?
  5. Why did Adeline's father find Niang so attractive?
  6. Why did Adeline have no visitors while she was sent away to St. Joseph's in Tianjin?
  7. Why did Niang despise Aunt Baba and Ye Ye?
  8. When Father and Niang decided to move to Hong Kong, why did Aunt Baba want to remain in Shanghai?
Chapters 9-16
  1. How did Adeline realize that her parents did not love her compared to the other girls at The Sacred Heart Convent School and Orphanage?
  2. Who was Adeline's best friend and greatest support while she was away at the convent/orphanage school?
  3. When was the first time Father actually showed Adeline that he was proud of her?
  4. Which person's death affected Niang the most?
  5. Which sibling did Adeline feel she had the best relationship with?
  6. Who did Adeline have a secret affair with while attending medical school?
  7. Why did Adeline give up Professor McFadden's offer at the Department of Internal Medicine and instead agree with Father's plan for her?
  8. Why did Niang and Father not help Adeline whenever she told them that she had decided to immigrate to America?
Chapters 17-24
  1. Why does Adeline stay in the abusive relationship with Byron for so long?
  2. Why was Niang not upset with Adeline for getting a divorce?
  3. Who brought together James and Louise?
  4. What happened between Aunt Baba and MIss Chien?
  5. Why was Susan disowned by her parents?
  6. How did Bob treat Adeline?
  7. Why did Aunt Baba want no one to help Lydia and Samuel?
  8. Why did Adeline decide to help Lydia's son, Tai-way?
Chapters 25-32
  1. What was consuming Father and making him ill?
  2. What happened between Adeline and Lydia?
  3. What illness took over Niang?
  4. Why had Adeline recieved nothing in Niang's will?
  5. Why was Adeline hurt by James' reaction regarding Niang's will?
  6. How did Adeline feel after reading Father's will?
  7. Why did Adeline not go to court over Niang's will?
  8. Who was the most influential person in Adeline's life?