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Word Count: 747
The True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter In order to explain the first scene in this memoir Adeline Yen Mah has filled the opening chapters with lusty images of an emerging nation amid burgeoning commercial international life at the end of an empire the start of a revolution Falling leaves with its endearing cover photo touching chapter titles sprinkling of Chinese language characters is about her family in the French Concession of Shanghai about her Buddhist grandfathers generation and how he first meets her grandmother at their arranged marriage about their children among whom are Adelines father his sister Aunt Baba It is after Adelines birth during the Japanese encroachment around Tianjin in 1937 that her mother succumbs to puerperal fever leaving five children motherless the household rudderless While Grandfather Ye Ye Aunt Baba the nameless servants tend to them all they watch as Father seeks marries a beautiful Eurasian woman whom they must call Niang a most formal title for a mother From here on Adeline Yen Mahs memoirs take on a dour malevolent aspect In her scrupulous honesty Adeline muses that Niang must have been happy in the beginning giving her stepchildren English names setting the tone of a fashionable household relegating elders to back rooms financial subservience Niang forces siblings to choose sides spy on each other curry her favor This most beautiful of stepmothers singles out the infant girl with particular venom although beloved Ye Ye treasured Aunt Baba are able to provide for the first few years at least a loving shield and some powerful if painful teachings Until Niang banishes Adeline to boarding schools I survived that particular isolation myself so I found Mrs Mahs descriptions devastating as well as healing How achingly familiar were those dreamy homesick segregated years except for the interesting times she lived in post World
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