Book Review: Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah

Image: Unsplash – Aaron Burden

[Hannah-Rose Bicknell | Features Editor]

Now, I don’t claim to be an avid bookworm, however in light of Chinese New Year, it’s fitting to discuss this truly thought-provoking novel, capable of pressing every emotional button you have.

Chinese Cinderella is based on the true story of the author’s childhood, adapted from her autobiography Falling Leaves. It is set during the Second World War, following her life from the age of four, which starts rather tragically. The reader discovers early on that Adeline’s mother dies due to complications after giving birth to her, despite this, Adeline’s father blames her for her mother’s death and she is seen as a source of bad luck.

Similar to the conventional story of Cinderella, Adeline’s father remarries to a woman called Niang (mother in mandarin). Niang treats Adeline with disdain, distancing Adeline from her family further, while treating her own children with love and affection. Throughout the book and as Adeline grows, the reader witnesses the series of highs and lows she goes through, from finding the smallest piece of solace in her aunt and grandparents, to being flung into a Catholic boarding school full of nuns in the middle of a war.


The brilliant writing really captures the imagination of the reader and makes you feel as though you are right there next to her. When she laughs, you’ll laugh; when she cries, you’ll cry (and trust me, you will cry). The most heart wrenching thing about the story, and the one main point that draws me back to this book a million times over, is that even though the trials and tribulations this little girl is thrown into, she still finds the courage to prove her worth and perseveres to gain acceptance.

The themes of Chinese culture run through the very heart of the book, not only popping up within the detailed descriptions of their setting, but also in the way in which Adeline interacts with the other characters. You really get a feel for the values in which Chinese people live by, as well as their superstitions. The novel even very briefly touches upon the notion of religion and how the amalgamation of western culture and religion impacted upon China and Adeline.

If you do read this book, I suggest you read it with an open mind and be prepared for a story containing the worst stepmother ever known to fiction. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone because it really does leave you with a heart-warming message: “Never give in.” Have you read Chinese Cinderella? Tell us your thoughts by tweeting us @TridentMediaUK

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