In parenting (and war), do the ends ever justify the means? If your eighth grader gives a piano recital at Carnegie Hall, does that accomplishment justify the 6–10 hours of practice daily with a mother who says things like “Oh my God, you’re just getting worse and worse”? Does it justify never allowing your daughter a play-date, unstructured time or a trip to the mall?
Amy Chua would say yes, emphatically. A tenured professor at Yale Law School and a respected author of books on law and ethnicity in the developing world, Chua turns to the differences between Chinese and Western parenting in her provocative memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Unlike the “weak-willed and indulgent” Western parents she criticizes, strict Chinese parents create a “virtuous circle” of achievement by insisting that their children memorize, practice and repeat. As her book graphically demonstrates, a Chinese parent (most often a mother in this book) must force the child to work; once the child begins to excel, self-confidence follows.
Fortunately for the readability of this memoir, Chua meets her foil in the person of her younger daughter Lulu, whose indomitable will and rebellious nature challenge her mother’s certainty at every turn. Unlike the pliable older daughter Sophia, whose success at the piano justifies the “virtuous circle” theory, Lulu’s own achievement on the violin comes at the cost of vicious arguments and tears. Chua’s Jewish husband Jed plays only a small part in this story, as an “American husband who believed that childhood should be fun,” and it would have been enlightening to get his perspective. Nonetheless, Chua is unafraid of portraying herself in a less than flattering light, and this honesty serves her purpose well, dramatizing the sacrifices involved with this model of parenting.
Sure to generate controversy, Chua’s candid family memoir offers valuable insight into larger cultural debates in children’s education, such as the place of testing and rote repetition. By demonstrating both the suc[Sat Mar 8 16:43:32 2014] enhancedContent.pl: Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\enhancedContent.pl line 249. cesses and the unvarnished personal costs of Chua’s method, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother leaves the reader wondering about the feasibility of some middle educational way, where discipline and self-expression unite. Perhaps it is up to Sophia and Lulu to write that book.
Copyright 2011 BookPage Reviews.
BookPage Reviews 2012 January
Best paperbacks for reading groups
TIGER MOM’S TOUGH LOVE
One of the most controversial books of 2011, Amy Chua’s memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, started an uproar when an excerpt portraying her structured approach to parenting ran in the Wall Street Journal. Recounting the story of how she raised her daughters to be super-achievers, Chua juxtaposes two different types of child-rearing—the strict Chinese approach and the more laissez-faire Western way. Chua, the child of Chinese immigrants, subscribes to the former, scheduling her daughters’ days down to the minute. There’s not much time left for fun, and Chua’s whip-cracking style often backfires (Lulu cuts off her hair in rebellion, while Sophia literally chews on the family’s piano). Chua, meanwhile, insists that her parenting methods are worth it thanks to the girls’ achievements, which are indeed impressive. This is a compelling book that should elicit impassioned discussion among moms and dads of every parenting style.
FINDING HERSELF WITH YOGA
In Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses, journalist Claire Dederer uses the ancient discipline as a lens for viewing her own life—and that of her parents. Raised in 1970s Seattle, a city she still calls home, Dederer turns to yoga after the birth of her children. The activity proves metaphorical as well as therapeutic, and yoga is used as a point of departure for reflections on work, family and motherhood. Dederer’s solid marriage stands in stark contrast to that of her parents, who separated when her mother fell for a hippie but didn’t divorce for decades. Musing on the current yoga craze, the trendiness of her hometown and the challenges of parenting, Dederer covers a lot of territory in this expertly crafted memoir, but the journey is wonderfully satisfying. Her perceptive reflections on how the past influences the present and the ways in which family history repeats itself will resonate with readers. Memoirs are a dime a dozen these days, but Dederer’s is a standout.
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Deborah Harkness’ hypnotic debut novel about vampires and witches draws on familiar themes yet feels fresh and authentic. A Yale academic who is the daughter of two witches, Diana Bishop is conducting research at Oxford when she discovers a most unusual volume. The book—150 years old and much coveted by witches and demons—contains supernatural secrets, and possession of it changes Diana’s life forever. Protecting her from those who would kill for the book is Matthew Clairmont, a 1,500-year-old vampire-scholar. As Diana’s alliance with Matthew blossoms into romance, she finds herself in an unforgettable battle with the forces of evil. Harkness moves among exotic locales—Paris, New York, Oxford—with the skill of a seasoned novelist, and the plot she spins is nothing less than mesmerizing.
Chua (Day of Empire) imparts the secret behind the stereotypical Asian child's phenomenal success: the Chinese mother. Chua promotes what has traditionally worked very well in raising children: strict, Old World, uncompromising values--and the parents don't have to be Chinese. What they are, however, are different from what she sees as indulgent and permissive Western parents: stressing academic performance above all, never accepting a mediocre grade, insisting on drilling and practice, and instilling respect for authority. Chua and her Jewish husband (both are professors at Yale Law) raised two girls, and her account of their formative years achieving amazing success in school and music performance proves both a model and a cautionary tale. Sophia, the eldest, was dutiful and diligent, leapfrogging over her peers in academics and as a Suzuki piano student; Lulu was also gifted, but defiant, who excelled at the violin but eventually balked at her mother's pushing. Chua's efforts "not to raise a soft, entitled child" will strike American readers as a little scary--removing her children from school for extra practice, public shaming and insults, equating Western parenting with failure--but the results, she claims somewhat glibly in this frank, unapologetic report card, "were hard to quarrel with." (Jan.)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC