1999 Puffin edition
|Author||Adeline Yen Mah|
|Language||English, Chinese and Bengali|
|September 7, 1999|
|Media type||Print (hardback, paperback)|
|Preceded by||Falling Leaves|
|Followed by||Chinese Cinderella and the Secret Dragon Society|
Chinese Cinderella: The Secret Story of an Unwanted Daughter is a book by Chinese-American physician and author Adeline Yen Mah describing her experiences growing up in China during the Second World War. First published in 1999, Chinese Cinderella is a revised version of part of her 1997 autobiography, Falling Leaves. Her mother died after giving birth to her (of fever)and she is known to her family as bad luck. Her father, Joseph Yen, remarries a woman who treats Adeline and her siblings harshly while spoiling Adeline's half-brother and half-sister.
In Adeline's family everyone rejects her because they consider her as bad luck since she caused her mother's death in child birth and they don't pay attention to her throughout her early childhood. This is the story of her struggle for acceptance and how she overcomes the odds to prove her worth. She also goes around and tries to warm up to her family but it backfires and they love her even worse.
Born the fifth child to a wealthy Chinese family, Adeline's life begins tragically. Adeline's mother died two weeks later after her birth due to complications brought on by the delivery, and in Chinese culture she is considered bad luck. This situation is compounded by her father's new marriage to Jeanne Prosperi (referred as "Niang", an alternate term for "mother" in Mandarin Chinese), a Eurasian woman who is very beautiful but only has little affection for her husband's five children. She displays overt antagonism and distrust towards all of the children, particularly Adeline, while favoring her own younger son, Franklin, and daughter, Susan (Jun-qing) born soon after the marriage. Niang is also responsible for renaming all Adeline and her siblings: her eldest sister becomes Lydia (Jun-pei); her three older brothers are renamed Gregory (Zi-jie), Edgar (Zi-ling), and James (Zi-jun) respectively, while Jun-ling is renamed "Adeline."
The book outlines Adeline's struggle to find a place where she feels she belongs. Denied love from her parents, she finds some solace in relationships with her grandfather (Ye Ye) and her Aunt Baba, but they are taken from her. Adeline immerses herself in striving for academic achievement in the hope of winning favor, but also for its own rewards as she finds great pleasure in words and scholarly success. She progresses in some things that her father and step-mother had never expected, for example at the first week of school she receives a medal for topping her class. She has many friends at school who love her, but they do not know about her inside life.
While at boarding school in Hong Kong, Adeline is taken away by her chauffeur. She is told that her grandfather has died. While at the funeral, Adeline openly weeps, while her stepmother and her father look on stony-faced. The rest of her siblings appear indifferent through the ceremony and don't show any heartache from the loss of this family member who loved them so much. Her love for her grandfather is resonated when she reads King Lear, finding it as inspiration to submit a work of writing for an international play-writing competition. She wants to go to study at a university in England but is not sure her parents will want her to. She is worried about what will become of her after she finishes school.
While playing Monopoly with her friends at boarding school, Adeline is interrupted and taken home by her chauffeur. She meets her father in his room ("The Holy of Holies"), where he tells her that she has won first prize in the international play-writing competition. Adeline asks him whether she could attend school in England with her brothers, and when Adeline is asked what she intends to study, she says she wants to study in the field of literature and creative writing. Her father immediately rejects her idea and sends her to a medical school and specialize in obstetrics. Adeline finally gets something she has been longing for, a chance to follow her dreams and to get away from her stepmother, Niang. She is able to go to college in England along with her third brother.
- , Penguin Books.