Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother Paperback – 2 Feb 2012
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'Blissfully funny' (India Knight, Sunday Times)
When an entire nation reacts so strongly to something you know you have hit a nerve. And Amy did ... she should be applauded for raising these issues with a thoughtful, humorous and authentic voice (Sheryl Sandberg (author of LEAN IN), Time magazine's '100 most influential people in the world')
'Millions of British children could use a Tiger Mother in their tank' (Allison Pearson, Daily Telegraph)
'A treat from first to last: ruefully funny, endlessly self-deprecating, riven with ironies .. I relished this memoir' (Independent)
'Entertaining, bracingly honest and, yes, thought-provoking' (New York Times)
The most talked about book of the year
The Sunday Times bestseller
The New York Times bestseller
Der Spiegel bestseller
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Her children are subjected to a regime of discipline and learning by rote designed to set them up for academic and musical success. And it works, up to a point.
The book's dynamic comes from the author/mother's division of approaches into Western (lax, pandering, liberal, not fulfilling the potential of the child) and Chinese (authoritarian and relentless in the pursuit of academic and musical success). Her approach is Chinese and her home is in the US, leading to friction with her children, husband, friends and colleagues.
Take it as a parenting manual and its likely to raise annoyance. Take it as the memoir of a woman who has correctly identified that she has adopted an approach many "Westerners" will find extreme, who tells her story succintly and well and who, between the lines, has an engaging take on self-deprecation and bathos and you'll probably like it.
My favourite quote from the book is...
"The summer after Florence's passing was a difficult one. To begin with, I ran over Sophia's foot.
"She jumped out of my car to grab a tennis racket while I was still backing up, and her left ankle got caught in the front wheel. Sophia and I both fainted. She ended up having surgery under full anasthesia and two big screws put in.
"Then she had to wear a huge boot and use crutches for the rest of the summer, which put her in a bad mood but at least gave her a lot of time to practice the piano."
If that raises a smile, you're probably on to a winner.
Chua's essential belief is that we draw our sense of self-worth from our achievements. She argues that the more than we have worked to master them, the greater the sense of self worth that they generate. Allowing children to give up on something because it's too hard and they're not seeing enough progress (what she calls the "Western" approach), is the worst thing that a parent can do. She argues that it's also the parent's role to direct the child. She mocks parents who give a child the freedom to pursue their "passions", which invariably turns out to be spending hours on Facebook. She also argues that the Western approach is the lazy approach and in her defence she clearly devotes many, many hours to supervising her children's music practice and performances.
However the book is also about how you have this idea going into parenthood about the kind of parent that you want to be and how it doesn't always work out like you think it will. In Chua's case, it works brilliantly for her first child but with the second, it's a totally different situation. It's about how difficult it can be to disassociate your own sense of self from your children. I know this is something that I come up against again and again as a mother. When my kids fail at something, it's not my failing anymore than their successes are mine. But it can be hard to remember that sometimes. Chua clearly gets more from her daughters' abilities than she is willing to admit to herself.
It's also often very funny. Some of the most endearing passages are about Chua's two Samoyed dogs. Chua is mortified to discover that Samoyed rate only #33 on a list of the most intelligent dog breeds. (The girls' first pets, two lazy rabbits that Chua disliked intensely, "mysteriously disappeared").
Whether you agree with Chua's approach or not - I didn't - this is a terrifically readable and highly thought provoking book. Well worth your time.
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Unapologetically brilliant. Read it.