Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter
Chinese Cinderella is Adeline Yen Mah's memoir about growing up neglected and unwanted. While many elements of the tale are distinctly Chinese, Mah's emotional tale resonates with readers of any culture. By entitling her memoir Chinese Cinderella, from the very beginning she invites the reader to make connections between her life and that of Cinderella's. Yet, the Chinese cultural and historical elements make this story a unique one. The book begins with a paragraph-long dedcation to all unwanted children worldwide. The following page, Contents, outlines the book with straightforward titles. Mah writes the chapter titles and numbers in English as well as Chinese. She includes Author's Note, which explains written Chinese. Finally, in the last section before the narrative of the memoir begins, there is a Preface that sheds some light onto the author's purpose for writing: "For those who were neglected and unloved as children, I have a particular message...please be convinced that each of you has within you something precious and unique." Her musings on strength in the face of adversity is followed by a practical, breif tutorial in Chinese names and number system. Mah does her best to prepare you emotionaly and cognitively for her tale. The tale proceeds in a simple chronological manner. The wording and vocabulary she employs is concise and effective. Elements of the popular western Cinderella story are present: dead natural mother, evil stepmother, befriended by animals, favored step-siblings and diligence and optimism in the face of adversity. However, the similarities between the popular version of Cinderella and Mah's story are subtle, thus preventing the memoir from becoming a parody. Additionally, always in the background, is a changing China, adding texture, gravity and originality to the story. There are a few pages of family photos included, as well as a couple of transcripts of letters and stories written by and to Mah. Also, after the end of the memoir, included are notes about the original Chinese Cinderella. Mah includes the actual tale of the Chinese Cinderella written in Chinese on the next page. In her explanation, Mah notes the abscence of punctution, the beauty of the characters, and how the books were physically made. Following this section is a Historical Note. The Historical Note is basically a review of all that was mentioned in the text, yet strained and isolated from the personal story. If I were to use this book in a class, I would have the students read all of the additional information, including the Historical Note and information about the original Chinese Cinderella, before reading the text itself. The addendums serve as excellent background-building, prereading exercises.