Falling Leaves (Mah)

All autobiographies are fiction. Where else would you accept without question years of recollection from a victim - or a perpetrator. Nevertheless autobiography is honest fiction as the bias of the author is obvious and openly declared.

In “Falling Leaves”, Adeline Yen Mah, recounts her passive acceptance of extreme cruelty from almost all her family members again and again and again. She gives no explanation of why so many of her family were such horrible people other than weakness and greed for access to the immense wealth that her mother-in-law controlled. 
The extreme abuse is endured in secret by family members nearly all their lives due to the poisonous Chinese cultural belief in saving family “face”.  Mah offers herself to family members for more abuse again and again throughout her life. Mah is perpetually the innocent, brilliant and, most frequently, passive victim in her life story.

To me, her blamelessness rang hollow and I yearned for other witnesses. To me, her contacts with her family, especially in later years, were masochistic.

The best character in the book for me was Aunt Baba who showed insight, courage and creativity in so many contacts with Mah.

The best part of the book was the least reliable i.e. the description of historical events that affected the life of Mah and all her family members.   It is so dangerous but so convincing to read fiction that weaves through history. Our belief in the characters lends credence to their experience of historical events. We incorrectly and dangerously feel that we understand history better.

The book is an extended experience of “rubbernecking” where we attempt to learn as much as possible about tragic events while feeling pleasure at having been lucky to avoid being the victim ourselves.

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