Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Review: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

If you have even a marginal interest in what books are generating conversation both inside and outside the publishing world, you've likely heard of Chua's controversial parenting memoir. People are outraged that she touts the strict "Chinese" parenting model, denigrates the much more laissez-faire "Western" parenting model, and holds her own very successful children up as proof that her conclusions and techniques are the "right" ones. This whole hue and cry made me incredibly interested in reading the book. And I am forced to come to the conclusion that some of the loudest voices of dissent can't possibly have read the same book I did. Certainly Chua stands by her parenting techniques but she isn't afraid to show her failures and the way in which she second guesses herself for not tailoring her parenting to better fit each of her daughters.

Chua is a high-achieving law professor at Yale. She is also a second generation Chinese-American who was herself pushed to excel as a child. As a parent, she makes the conscious decision to raise her children in accordance with the strict, demanding, and frequently unbending manner in which she was raised. And she attributes much of their exceptional academic and musical success to her insistence on routine, complete and expected obedience, and hours of repetitious drill. She holds her children to almost impossible standards and trusts that they are strong enough to hear about it when they have not met these lofty expectations. She compares what she sees as a "Western" laxity with her regimented "Chinese" methods and certainly the parenting method she didn't choose herself does come off poorly in some cases.

But Chua does have some legitimate points about the pervading culture which deems mere proficieny to be good enough instead of demanding exellence. Chua's insistence on her children spending hours practicing their instruments in order to be pre-eminent may strike people as excessive but how many parents of any stripe have spent hours standing over their children fighting the homework battle? Or have driven a child to a practice when said child whines that s/he doesn't want to go today? Or chosen a sport or an instrument for the child rather than allowing him/her a choice? Or pushed tutoring on a child? And the list goes on and on. Most of us have shades of a Tiger Mother in us. We might choose different battles and different instances in which to push our children, but we do fight those battles.

The memoir chronicles Chua's successes and failures and the high cost of both, with one daughter suited to her brutally honest, highly expectant parenting style and the other much less so. It is slightly disingenuous for Chua to claim her children's musical prodigality and academic successes result from her parenting given the girls' genetic inheritance. Both Chua and husband Jed are very intelligent, highly successful individuals and musical talent runs in Jed's family. So Chua has not been working all these years with children incapable of rising to her exacting standards. And that, perhaps is one of the biggest lessons of Chua's book: don't allow a highly-capable child to settle for mediocrity. High standards are not a bad thing. Giving trophies for participation regardless of effort is. Practice, onerous and tedious though it may be, is still the best way to get ahead.

This is an incredibly quick read and Chua pulls no punches on her behaviour as a mother but this isn't the mea culpa confessional sort of memoir we've come to expect. It does not have an apologetic tone and perhaps that is where some of the public excoriation comes in. But just as I stand by my own brand of parenting (certainly a mixture of laissez-faire and impossible standards), Chua stands by her own, mistakes and all. She says in the final chapter that her husband and both daughters read the book, making suggestions and registering their concerns so she has tried to balance her memories with theirs as best as possible. On occasion, hearing about the impressive accomplishments of Chua's daughters (as well as her own and her husband's) does get a little wearying, making it legitimate to complain this can be a rather long braggy book. But leaving out the accolades would make the account of strict parenting simply a preachy screed with tiny flashes of humility. The furor over the book might die away quickly but even if it does, it would make a fanastic book club choice. Clearly polarizing, discussions would go on for long periods as long as at least one person reads it carefully and with an open mind.

For more information about Amy Chua be sure to visit the wikipedia page about her and if you want to see the controversy swirling around this book, a simple internet search will pull up more than you need.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. I think most of the "outraged" people haven't read the book at all. I haven't either (although I want to) but I'm not going to tar and feather the woman over something I heard was on TV. That seems ridiculous. Plus, from what I've heard about the book - I've got to agree. Kids today are given everything, have to work for little/nothing, are praised for simply existing, and from what I've seen as an outside observer (non-parent), it's not turning out pillars of society. I think this book would be an interesting companion read to Nurtureshock. I am thrilled that Ms. Chua had the cahones to open this can of worms as this conversation about American parenting is long overdue a good hard look. Great review!

  2. It's a pet peeve of mine when people judge a book without reading because of just the reason you mentioned - if they actually read the book, their opinions would be so very different. I'm so glad you read this one and that you could see where most of the are the critics were off base with their remarks.

    Thanks for being on this tour!

  3. I'm kind to hear that this book isn't provocative, considering all the reactions towards this one. While I'm not too keen on this book - I'd never support a strict parenting model, even with all its merits (I grew up in an environment that had both the "Chinese" and the "Western" parenting elements), but the controversies around this book have been never-ending, making me wonder if it's really that bad? I'm glad you say that she backed up her claims pretty well.

  4. Interesting to get your take on this one.


I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

Popular Posts