Book Review: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother – Amy Chua [TSS]

Title: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
Author: Amy Chua
ISBN: 9781594202841
Pages: 256
Release Date: January 11, 2011
Publisher: The Penguin Press
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

In this memoir, author Amy Chua recounts raising her two daughters the “Chinese” way – choosing their hobbies, refusing to let them have playdates or sleepovers.  She discusses her battle with her younger daughter, her unsuccessful attempts at trying to make her cooperate, and ultimately, her humbling “at the hands of a thirteen-year-old.”

Review:

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is definitely a controversial book.  After Chua’s article in the Wall Street Journal (taken from the first chapter of the book), people went into an uproar about it.  Having read the article, and recognizing immediately that the Indian philosophy on child rearing is similar to that of the Chinese, I began to defend Chua.  I was raised in a strict household (though not compared to how Chua raised her daughters), without many of the freedoms enjoyed by my peers – for example, I wasn’t allowed to date until college, and even then, it was a pretty dicey situation.  Therefore, I understood this philosophy of parenting, both the good and the bad (and the frustrating), and wanted to defend the way I’d been brought up.  Then I realized I’d been getting into deep and serious discussions without full knowledge of Chua’s philosophy or the point of the book, and decided I needed to read it to rectify that situation.

I was surprised to find Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was very funny, which I didn’t expect.  Chua’s sense of humor is very tongue-in-cheek, though it’s subtle; if you’re reading it with an agenda, determined to prove that she is a child abuser, you probably won’t pick up on it.  For example, lines like the following had me laughing out loud.

“I wanted her to be well-rounded and have hobbies and activities.  Not just any activities like ‘crafts,’ which can lead nowhere – or even worse, playing the drums, which leads to drugs.”

The fact is, I firmly believe Chua was trying to be funny with this book.  Not the whole thing, definitely, but I see her sense of humor.  Many may fervently disagree with me, but I found a good portion of this book truly amusing.

I also think Chua made some excellent points about pushing your children to do things, rather than allowing them to do whatever “fulfills” them, even if that is spending 6 hours on Facebook.  I was pushed into activities I didn’t want to do – by nature, I’m a homebody and would rather spend my time with my nose stuck in a book.  While I think the pushing went on a little too long in my case, today I’m glad I have those skills.  I’m glad my mom pushed me into doing things I didn’t necessarily want to do.  Does Chua go too far?  Definitely.  There is no question about that.  But I think a lot of the lessons she tries to teach are good ones, but the fact that she’s so mean at times overshadows that.

For example, a lot of hay has been made over the fact that Chua rejected the homemade card her daughter made her for Chua’s birthday.  But if you read the book (which I don’t think a lot of the detractors have actually bothered to do), a different view comes to light.  Basically, the card was clearly made in about 20 seconds, and she decides not to accept it.  She makes the point that she works hard on her children’s birthday parties, to make the occasion special, and she would appreciate it if they put some thought and effort into making her a birthday card.  While it’s mean, and it probably would have been better (and more tactfully) handled by her husband, the point is valid. 

Towards the end of the book, though, I think Chua confuses the Chinese parenting model and sheer stubbornness.  She attributes her actions to the fact that she’s trying to be a Chinese mother, but I’m not sure I buy that.  It’s good for your children to have hobbies and it’s great for them to excel in what they do.  But when a child is old enough to make the choice as to whether or not they want to become a concert pianist or a world-class violinist, and they express that choice, I think taking their feelings into account is necessary.  Chua denies that she pushed her younger daughter into applying for a Julliard program for herself, but I don’t see that.  This is where she lost me.  You can’t really say that “the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud” and then claim that you’re making your daughter play the violin, even though everything she says and does tells you that she doesn’t want to, because it’s good for her.

I believe in compromise, and from the very beginning of the book, Chua makes it clear that is where she is going to end up.  I don’t believe that a child’s job is to make their parents happy, but being raised in a culture where that is the case, I can understand this book.  With Chinese mothers, it’s all about pushing your kids to excel, no matter the cost.  Even if they hate you now, they’ll thank you later.  But what Chua doesn’t take into account (though she admits this at the end of the book) is that it doesn’t always work.  I wish my upbringing had been more lenient, and it’s difficult for me to remember how unhappy I was at times.  That being said, I don’t resent my upbringing, but if I’d had Chua’s daughters’ experience, I may have gone off to college and never looked back.  It’s all about compromise, and while Chua is still her controlling, compulsive self at the end of the book, she recognizes her mistakes (at least to a certain extent).

This is an absurdly long review, and yet I have so much more I can say about this book.  So I will leave you with this:  if you’re going to discuss it, judge it (and specifically, judge Chua), then read it first.  Though Chua is absolutely horrible at times, she does make some good points.  I think that her meanness often overshadows what she’s trying to say.  That being said, I don’t think this book is for everyone.  If you’re a mother and very set in your parenting ways, then this book will probably just make you angry.  If you’re coming at it from a more academic point of view and are interested in what Chua has to say, though, I definitely recommend it.  If nothing else, it will make you think.

Comments

  1. Great review! I’m eagerly awaiting my copy of this book to arrive in my mailbox as I also wanted to read it before I went ahead and had an opinion about it. Hurry up, mailman!!!

  2. Great review! I’m eagerly awaiting my copy of this book to arrive in my mailbox as I also wanted to read it before I went ahead and had an opinion about it. Hurry up, mailman!!!

  3. Excellent review. You’ve said exactly how I felt about this book. I really do wish people would sit down and read the entire book before judging her and not just by the excerpt or from what they’ve just heard on TV. And yay to us who were raised in strict Asian/Indian households!

  4. Excellent review. You’ve said exactly how I felt about this book. I really do wish people would sit down and read the entire book before judging her and not just by the excerpt or from what they’ve just heard on TV. And yay to us who were raised in strict Asian/Indian households!

  5. It sounds like Chua may have gone a little too far in the “it’s my child’s job to make me happy” department, but I think a lot of American mothers have gone too far in the “it’s my job to make my child happy” department.

    I really want to read this one. I’d love to know Chua’s daughter’s take on things. This sounds like it would make a great book club pick!

  6. It sounds like Chua may have gone a little too far in the “it’s my child’s job to make me happy” department, but I think a lot of American mothers have gone too far in the “it’s my job to make my child happy” department.

    I really want to read this one. I’d love to know Chua’s daughter’s take on things. This sounds like it would make a great book club pick!

  7. I think you’re absolutely right — I know I need to read this one to have a full understanding of what she was trying to say. Some of the backlash to her NYT piece is just as upsetting as the article itself. Very interesting review, Swapna. I think it’s the best one I have seen yet. 🙂

  8. I think you’re absolutely right — I know I need to read this one to have a full understanding of what she was trying to say. Some of the backlash to her NYT piece is just as upsetting as the article itself. Very interesting review, Swapna. I think it’s the best one I have seen yet. 🙂

  9. This is definitely on my TBR. I think Chua’s PR machine garnered lots of attention, as planned. But the tidbits that they let out really painted an ugly portrait of her. I appreciated your review, and am eager to make my own judgment about this one.

  10. This is definitely on my TBR. I think Chua’s PR machine garnered lots of attention, as planned. But the tidbits that they let out really painted an ugly portrait of her. I appreciated your review, and am eager to make my own judgment about this one.

  11. I had a visceral reaction to the snippets I heard about the book in the media but, like you, have decided to read it so that I have the whole picture before I react.

    While I can see the benefits of a less permissive parenting style in terms of TV watching, sleepovers, etc (in fact I had similar restrictions growing up) what I found disturbing about some of Chua’s stories from the book was her unyielding criticism of her daughters – it seems quite harsh and I wonder about its long term impact on her children. As the child of immigrants who also had a singular focus on making their child successful, I can attest to the long term impact the constant drive to achieve and make good on the many sacrifices made on my behalf had on me.

    With that said, I do want to read the book because I am sure her parenting is much more well-rounded than just what has appeared in excerpts.

  12. I had a visceral reaction to the snippets I heard about the book in the media but, like you, have decided to read it so that I have the whole picture before I react.

    While I can see the benefits of a less permissive parenting style in terms of TV watching, sleepovers, etc (in fact I had similar restrictions growing up) what I found disturbing about some of Chua’s stories from the book was her unyielding criticism of her daughters – it seems quite harsh and I wonder about its long term impact on her children. As the child of immigrants who also had a singular focus on making their child successful, I can attest to the long term impact the constant drive to achieve and make good on the many sacrifices made on my behalf had on me.

    With that said, I do want to read the book because I am sure her parenting is much more well-rounded than just what has appeared in excerpts.

  13. Great review! I’ve been looking forward to it since you mentioned that you were reading it on Twitter. Like you, I appreciate a subtle sense of humor, so maybe I will give this book a read after all. Thanks.

  14. Great review! I’ve been looking forward to it since you mentioned that you were reading it on Twitter. Like you, I appreciate a subtle sense of humor, so maybe I will give this book a read after all. Thanks.

  15. Excellent review, Swapna. I enjoyed your impressions of this book. It is unfair to judge parenting under most circumstances, but especially when there are cultural differences. Thanks so much for this well thought out and sincere review.

  16. Excellent review, Swapna. I enjoyed your impressions of this book. It is unfair to judge parenting under most circumstances, but especially when there are cultural differences. Thanks so much for this well thought out and sincere review.

  17. Fantastic review, Swapna. Very well done! I did a lot of research on Chinese family dynamics/child rearing in college. Cultural variations in child-rearing has always been an interest of mine, so I’m really anxious to start this one!

  18. Fantastic review, Swapna. Very well done! I did a lot of research on Chinese family dynamics/child rearing in college. Cultural variations in child-rearing has always been an interest of mine, so I’m really anxious to start this one!

  19. Have read many reviews on this book – almost all interesting – and really loved your perspective! Enjoy all the discussion around it, though I have to confess I don’t think I will read it.

  20. Have read many reviews on this book – almost all interesting – and really loved your perspective! Enjoy all the discussion around it, though I have to confess I don’t think I will read it.

  21. Being Chinese, I can’t wait to read this book (I’m waiting to see if my book club is going to pick it, before I decide when to read it).

    Since we don’t have any children yet (or if ever), it makes me wonder what type of mother I’d be. My husband is not Chinese so our upbringing is quite different. There are probably things I would have done different to my parents, but would I end up doing the same instead? That I don’t know.

  22. Being Chinese, I can’t wait to read this book (I’m waiting to see if my book club is going to pick it, before I decide when to read it).

    Since we don’t have any children yet (or if ever), it makes me wonder what type of mother I’d be. My husband is not Chinese so our upbringing is quite different. There are probably things I would have done different to my parents, but would I end up doing the same instead? That I don’t know.

  23. I ended up reading this book because I was judging it a lot and I was getting so ANGRY so I decided I needed to know what I was judging. I found the book to be very funny too, and I laughed out loud when I first read that quote. That being said, I do believe that type of parenting can be emotionally abusive and mess with your children. My parenting wasn’t like hers with how extreme it was but it was similar and I absolutely resent it. I’ve grown up with a lot of issues because of it.

  24. I ended up reading this book because I was judging it a lot and I was getting so ANGRY so I decided I needed to know what I was judging. I found the book to be very funny too, and I laughed out loud when I first read that quote. That being said, I do believe that type of parenting can be emotionally abusive and mess with your children. My parenting wasn’t like hers with how extreme it was but it was similar and I absolutely resent it. I’ve grown up with a lot of issues because of it.

  25. I have been so intrigued by the controversy that this book has caused, and I think you make a great point about not judging it unless you read it. The author and I have very different parenting styles, and I imagine that I would probably be very mad at some of the things she does, but again, I am reserving judgment until I actually read the book. This was a very awesome review and I appreciate you taking the time to go over all your feelings with us about it.

  26. I have been so intrigued by the controversy that this book has caused, and I think you make a great point about not judging it unless you read it. The author and I have very different parenting styles, and I imagine that I would probably be very mad at some of the things she does, but again, I am reserving judgment until I actually read the book. This was a very awesome review and I appreciate you taking the time to go over all your feelings with us about it.

  27. That was a great review, Swapna! 🙂 Very balanced and it covers all the points of the book, not just the beginning or the end or bits and pieces taken out of context.

    I haven’t read the book (and probably won’t, since it’s not really in my interest area – no kids) so I won’t comment further on the book or Chua.

  28. That was a great review, Swapna! 🙂 Very balanced and it covers all the points of the book, not just the beginning or the end or bits and pieces taken out of context.

    I haven’t read the book (and probably won’t, since it’s not really in my interest area – no kids) so I won’t comment further on the book or Chua.

  29. Excellent review. Parenting styles are definitely influenced by many things: cultural background, religion, socioeconomic status, and current trends.

  30. Excellent review. Parenting styles are definitely influenced by many things: cultural background, religion, socioeconomic status, and current trends.

  31. Loved this review. Have you read the Times article about the book? I think they took a slightly less judgmental approach to the book, and they brought up some interesting points. I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to read the book or not, but I’ve now added it to my TBR.

    Also – don’t worry about the length! Your review was thoughtful and well-written, and that’s more important to me than length.

  32. Loved this review. Have you read the Times article about the book? I think they took a slightly less judgmental approach to the book, and they brought up some interesting points. I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to read the book or not, but I’ve now added it to my TBR.

    Also – don’t worry about the length! Your review was thoughtful and well-written, and that’s more important to me than length.

  33. I find that the more controversial a book is, and the more passionate its lovers or haters, the longer my review tends to me, so I see why you took the care with the review, and really appreciate it, especially your emphasis on reading it, not just knee-jerk reacting to it. (I found a lot of parents did that about teaching your kid to sleep books when my boys were smaller. Took second hand, inaccurate quotes out of context.) It’s on my library list. I’m not in a rush to read it, but I look forward to being part of the discussion once I do read it for myself.

  34. I find that the more controversial a book is, and the more passionate its lovers or haters, the longer my review tends to me, so I see why you took the care with the review, and really appreciate it, especially your emphasis on reading it, not just knee-jerk reacting to it. (I found a lot of parents did that about teaching your kid to sleep books when my boys were smaller. Took second hand, inaccurate quotes out of context.) It’s on my library list. I’m not in a rush to read it, but I look forward to being part of the discussion once I do read it for myself.

  35. Swapna, have you heard of I LOVE YOUS ARE FOR WHITE PEOPLE by Lac Su? I read a column by Su that was published as a sort of counterpoint to Chua.

    I was not going to read the TIGER MOTHER book because I’m weary of mothers being pitted against mothers. We already have breast vs. bottle, spanking vs. not, working vs. at home, and now East vs. West? Do we really need more of that? What mothers — parents! — of all stripes truly need is support.

    I then won the TIGER MOTHER book in the #fridayreads contest and it’s on my desk. I intend to read both TIGER and I LOVE YOUS ARE FOR WHITE PEOPLE. And I will try to bring compassion along with me as I sit down to read them both. This should be an interesting experience.

    (p.s. I’m an ordinary Midwestern white girl who was raised by parents on the strict end of the spectrum, but not in the TIGER MOTHER zone.)

  36. Swapna, have you heard of I LOVE YOUS ARE FOR WHITE PEOPLE by Lac Su? I read a column by Su that was published as a sort of counterpoint to Chua.

    I was not going to read the TIGER MOTHER book because I’m weary of mothers being pitted against mothers. We already have breast vs. bottle, spanking vs. not, working vs. at home, and now East vs. West? Do we really need more of that? What mothers — parents! — of all stripes truly need is support.

    I then won the TIGER MOTHER book in the #fridayreads contest and it’s on my desk. I intend to read both TIGER and I LOVE YOUS ARE FOR WHITE PEOPLE. And I will try to bring compassion along with me as I sit down to read them both. This should be an interesting experience.

    (p.s. I’m an ordinary Midwestern white girl who was raised by parents on the strict end of the spectrum, but not in the TIGER MOTHER zone.)

Leave a Reply

Comment Policy:  I welcome comments and read each one I receive. If your comment needs a response, I will provide it in a timely manner, as I read every comment I receive. Please keep your comments civil and polite! I reserve the right to delete any comments that are rude or inappropriate. Because of spam, I have to moderate comments on old posts. Please be patient - I will approve your comment quickly.

Before the tag in the Genesis footer: !-- Quantcast Tag -->