Chinese Cinderella – #newworldnovel

In #newworldnovel, Features, HOME, LITERATURE by Beci Moss

#newworldnovel is a feature in which we get people to tell us which book they’d choose if they had to leave earth today and go to a brand new world empty of all our literature. Would they choose something to comfort themselves or would they choose something to help whatever may live or come to live in this new world?

Chinese Cinderella – Adeline Yen Mah

So here I am, writing an article about literature. I have to admit, I’m in foreign territory here, because, well, I’m an engineer. Numbers and bridges are within my comfort zone, writing about books is not. It’s not that I dislike literature. I’m not well read, but there are some books that have really affected me. One of them is a book called Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah, that I read twice around the age of 15.

Before you ask, no it’s not a Chinese translation of Cinderella. Chinese Cinderella is a semi-autobiographical story of a girl growing up in China in the 1940s. Adeline or Jun-ling is the fifth child of an affluent Chinese family who is considered “bad-luck” by her whole family when her mother dies just two weeks after giving birth to her. Her only sources of solace are her grandfather and her Aunt Baba. In a desperate attempt to gain her father’s approval, she immerses herself in accademia, hoping to excel.

Her father remarries a Eurasian woman called Jeanne Prosperi (a.k.a. bitchface of the whole book) who treats her like dirt in her own house, while her father simply looks on without intervention. Talk about really bad parenting right? Jeanne makes Adeline’s life hell and all she wants is to get away. No matter how much she excels academically, neither Jeanne nor her father really pay attention to her. Basically, they really just want to marry her off to get rid of her.

As if her life couldn’t get any worse, Adeline faces subsequent tragedies in the loss of loved ones (at this point in the book, I was ugly crying) and further rejection. It’s not all depressingly tragic though, and there are moments of real hope, and triumph over adversity, and, spoiler alert: there is a happy ending.

When I read this book, I didn’t really know why it resonated with me so much. I (thank God) never had the bad experiences that she had and yet I cried like a baby almost the whole way through. I felt her pain and her struggle, the way I never thought a book could affect me.

In hindsight, I realise why I felt that way. Just before I turned 12, I moved to Scotland from the Philippines and this may sound dramatic but at the time, I felt like I was stripped of everything I knew and had to start all over again. I remember arriving at Edinburgh airport to grey skies, having left the sweltering heat of the Philippines far behind. I was massively culture shocked and felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. I had no friends for a while, and felt like no one was interested in getting to know me at school. As a result, I would to bury myself in academia, or drawing, or music, or sports. I wanted to excel in everything so that people would think I was “cool” and then want to be friends with me. I was young and just wanted other people’s approval.

Now I look back and I smile because none of that really matters now. I’m at a good place in my life. I’m almost done with University and have somehow managed to get myself a graduate job. But most of all, I have found a sense of belonging. I have people in my life who take me as I am, who were willing to take the time to get to know me, and now I don’t feel the need to try and excel at everything to gain their approval. In a way, I feel like Adeline…Filipino Cinderella has a certain ring to it.

So, if you’re looking for a novel to take with you to a New World, a place that is completely foreign to you, full of unfamiliarities and uncertainties, then I would recommend Chinese Cinderella. It’s not like I need to imagine a New World, I’ve already been to one, and believe me, this book helps.

Dana Salazar

Dana Salazar is a final year Civil Engineering student at the University of Edinburgh. She was born in the Philippines and moved to Scotland when she was twelve. She is really talented at many things, including singing, playing the guitar, winning at basketball, cooking kick-ass Pad Thai, building bridges, and apparently, writing literature features (who knew?) She is great. Like, really really great and has a super cool girlfriend (Lit Editor’s note: This bio may be slightly biased since Dana is my girlfriend and I’m the one writing it).  

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