Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

by Amy Chua

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

I’d heard a lot about this book and had always wanted to read it. I’d read excerpts of a few of her other books and it looked like Battle Hymn was a bit of a departure, but exciting none the less. Then I had the opportunity to hear Chua speak at my brother’s law school graduation and enjoyed what she had to say. She spoke a lot about the backlash she received after writing the book and the controversy surrounding it. Which goes to show you, people who don’t read books shouldn’t get to make talking points on morning shows.

To understand Amy Chua as a Tiger Mother you have to understand that she is the daughter of Chinese (via the Phillipines) immigrants whose hard work ethic, high expectations, and cultural traditions informed Amy as she grew and as she became a parent. Her husband is Jewish and before they had children he and Chua agreed that they’d teach their children Mandarin and raise them Jewish. An interesting compromise as he wasn’t particularly religious and she didn’t speak Mandarin. The couple’s first child, Sophia, was your textbook perfect baby. She didn’t fuss. She more than passed her milestones. She seemed eager to please and obedient which is highly prized in the Chinese culture (according to Chua, I am no expert). The couple’s second child; however, would continue to challenge Chua at every turn. Chua was determined to fight against family decline, or the idea that prosperity cannot last through three generations. When observing the Chinese immigrant community, Chua notes that the third generation who are the recipients of their parents and grandparents hard work might feel like they are entitled to make their own life choices. In Chinese culture, strictly a no.

As Chua’s children grow, she notes that neither of them are afraid of her disapproval in the way she feared her own parents disapproval. This is what she considers a major failing as a parent. Nowhere is this more apparent then when discussing how Chua approached her children’s music lessons. Sophia began piano lessons at three years old and practiced for 90 minutes each day, and more on lesson days. While she didn’t always enjoy her practice or her mother’s constant vigilance (Chua sat through all her practicing… um, I have no words), she did develop a love of music and was something of a child prodigy which only spurred Chua to push her further. Lulu also started on the piano, but the practicing was such a chore and Sophia’s progress made Chua think they should start her on a different (more difficult) instrument. Of course, Chua is going to do her due diligence in this sphere as well. While Sophia and Lulu progress well in their instruments, their approach to practice and performance differs in ways that infuriate Chua and Lulu becomes more vocal in her dislike of her mother’s methods. Chua’s daughters are not the only people who disapprove. Chua’s husband, Jed, while presenting a united front, privately fights with his wife about her treatment of their daughters and her singleminded parenting style. Even Chua’s parents think she is being too hard on her children. The whole futile situation comes to a head on a family vacation to Russia where Chua insists that Lulu take a bite of something she has no interest in trying. Sure, it sounds like a little thing, but Lulu blows up and makes a scene which Chua adds to. It is in this moment that Chua decides there has to be a change… then she admits some failings in the Chinese method of child rearing.

Parts of this book were challenging to read, because honestly, the way Chua speaks to her children amounts to emotional abuse. It makes one uncomfortable, but Chua is writing in retrospect and with the permission of her family, in fact they read each draft as it was written to help keep her honest and balanced. She said the whole experience of putting down what she learned and how she was learning to change was cathartic for everyone involved. Some parts of the story I felt were unnecessary, for example, Chua’s family acquires some dogs and they certainly didn’t add to the story at all. Then, there is an episode of her sister and a cancer battle, that seems periphery and not exactly an addition that makes sense. Otherwise, it was interesting and worth reading, if only for an idea of the vastly different ways children can be raised.

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The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms

by Amy Stewart

The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms by Amy Stewart

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by Maria Semple

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by Douglas Preston

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by Dana L. Ayers

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by Stan Lee and Stuart Moore

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by Cary Elwes and Joe Layden

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by Neil Gaiman

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by Chris Lear

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by Nora McInerny Purmort

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Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

by Amy Chua

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by Sarah Vowell

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by Jasper Fforde

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