Thursday, September 29, 2011

Book Review: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua

I’d read a lot of reviews about this one that pretty much scared me away from it for awhile. But, then as I was visiting a Borders Going-Out-Of-Business sale, there it sat on the shelf. Staring at me, drawing me nearer with it’s "Additional 20% off" sign. I bit. I’m glad!

If you haven’t heard the premise yet, Tiger Mother was written by Chinese-American Amy Chua, a Professor of Law at Yale University and all around over-achiever. It’s the Chinese way. I can’t get away with saying that, right? Well, I’m just easing you in. I may not pull off throwing around such blatant racial stereotypes, but that’s exactly what this book is about. Comparing the Chinese way of parenting to, what the author refers to as, the “Western” way.

In all the synopsizes I’d read, it was the same shocking comments. That Ms. Chua (and all Chinese parents) do not:
  • Compliment their children in public
  • Allow their children to attend play-dates or sleepovers
  • Allow their children to watch television
  • Allow their children to bring home any grade less than an A. (And, yes, an A- is less than an A.)
  • Allow their children to choose their own extra-curricular activities
  • Allow their children to come in second place in anything they’re participating in. Science fair, spelling bee, musical competitions… Blue ribbons are only accepted.
All of the above are true statements taken from its pages. Thankfully this is not a self-help book, but a memoir of the author trying to raise her daughters (with her Jewish-American husband) adhering strictly to these tenets.

From what I had heard about it, I was worried this book would become a slowly unwinding account of child abuse. But, by the first chapter I was relieved to find “Oh thank goodness! She’s funny!” Being so blunt about why “Chinese is better” and hearing her daughters reactions to these statements kept me in stitches. Like when her younger daughter brought home a school paper graded 100%, but Tiger Mother noticed she did not complete the extra credit problems and scolded her for it. Daughter lies and replies that no one does extra credit. Tiger Mother proclaims that she’s “100% sure that Amy and Junno did the extra credit” (noting to the reader that Amy and Junno are her two Asian classmates.) Daughter defies that “Not only Asian kids do extra credit!”

Yes, she is blunt and confident that the Chinese way is best. Yes, she did return the birthday cards her daughters drew for her because they were hastily and sloppily made. Yes, she and her husband did find teeth marks on the family piano (created by a frustrated child who practiced the instrument for hours a day.) But, she finds the humor in the extremes she often went to and can plausibly reason a lot of this behavior away. She wanted her daughters to meet their full potentials. She was a constant companion during their hours of piano and violin rehearsal, there to correct every note and technique flaw, and two child prodigies were made! It’s hard to knock it at times.

But, this memoir follows her parenting into her children’s teenage years… which, by then, has bred one very rebellious thirteen year old! Tiger Mother does lighten up and if her critics had finished the book to its end, the scary reviews I had read may have left a different impression on me and I might have had the delight of reading this book much sooner.

Her husband and daughters even helped edit and guide the manuscript for this book. Every word was crafted to please all parties involved, so lay off the Tiger Mom because I’m crossing my fingers for a sequel!

No comments: