Surprising Myself

I had no idea I would enjoy and even admire Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. I had no intention of even reading it until a couple of friends, Robin and Bill, vouched for it on Facebook. Glad their endorsements swayed me.

I had inferred that the book was a sensationalist screed. Though I hadn’t read Janet Maslin’s review in the New York Times, I’d somehow absorbed its point of view: that Chua is a brutal, self-involved, humorless tyrant, lacking in self-awareness and utterly self-righteous. If you noticed the media reports about this book, you knew that Chua didn’t let her daughters go on playdates, that she made them practice their piano and violin for hours at a time, that she once tore up their homemade birthday cards for her because they were slapdash, and that she generally punished and pushed her kids way beyond what an average American does. In the shorthand accounts I saw, she came across as closeminded and even cruel.

In fact, Chua’s humor and self-questioning make this book interesting. It’s well-written and engrossing. It makes you wonder if you (i.e. Western Parent) should have pushed your kids a little bit more, at the same time you’re wincing at Chua’s excesses.

In an interview on NPR, Chua said, “I’m still struggling, right? I mean I don’t have the answers.” Her book’s front cover makes this ambivalence clear. It says:

“This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones. But instead, it’s about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.”

It’s as though the reviewers read each other’s reviews instead of the book. As though they didn’t even read the book’s cover. Chua’s younger daughter rebelled against her stringent parenting, and the subsequent conflicts and questions and doubts about parenting make the story.

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