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No fairy tale for unwanted daughter

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CHINESE CINDERELLA By Adeline Yen Mah Delacorte Press

Bestselling author Adeline Yen Mah captivated readers with her autobiography "Falling Leaves" in 1998 (John Wiley & Sons). She dedicates her latest memoir, "Chinese Cinderella," to "all unwanted children." Anyone who has ever felt left out or unliked will relate to this narrative.

Mah traces her story from when she was 10 years old up until the time she left China to attend a university in London. She describes in searing detail the unhappiness of being disliked by her family. Her stepmother insists that she stay in distant boarding schools, her father has trouble remembering her age or even her name, and her older siblings blame her for their mother's passing, which came days after Adeline's birth.

Yet despite the misery of her immediate surroundings, Mah is also shaped by the encouragement and love she receives from a devoted aunt, a wise grandfather, family servants, and school mates. While she still yearns for approval and kindness from her parents, she finds comfort and guidance in her academic activities. Teachers identify her talent for writing, and she relies on her own experiences to craft an award- winning short story. The prestige associated with this award prompts her father to allow her to attend a university in another country. There she begins her voyage toward a new life.

This emotional and eventually uplifting memoir could certainly spark conversations in the classroom or between parents and children. An added benefit is the overlay of modern Chinese history. The civil war of the late 1940s and the eventual establishment of a Communist government are reported from a personal perspective. The author also shares her fascination with words and offers a brief introduction to the written Chinese language. Yet it is the story of the child, indeed a Chinese Cinderella, that reminds us of the infinite power of kindness and encouragement.

*Kim Risedorph taught Chinese history at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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