Book Review – Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

20th Best Book about China - Battle Hymn of th...

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua (Photo credit: China Books)

Wow, this one’s going to be tough. I gave myself a couple of weeks after finishing this to decide whether or not I liked it, and I still don’t know.

It’s the true story of one mother’s “extreme parenting exercise,” so that right there tells you that a.) this book is pretty darn controversial and b.) I was into it. Amy Chua, the author, doesn’t write what I would put into the category of “well,” but she is at times screamingly funny and at others, heartbreaking, and most of the time, completely outrageous. I will say that probably about three-quarters of this book is just like watching a train wreck. It’s horrible, and you can’t look away.

Straight from the Goodreads description of this book…Several things Amy Chua wouldn’t allow her daughters to do:

  • Have a playdate
  • Be in a school play
  • Complain about not being in a school play
  • Not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  • Play any instrument other than the piano or violin

Like I said, homegirl is extreme. She makes the argument in this book that she is so strict and so exacting because she believes in her girls, and she knows they can do these things. There is one chapter that argues that even when the younger daughter, Lulu, wants to quit the violin, Chua forces her to keep playing because she knows that Lulu would be more unhappy in the end if she stopped doing something she had such extraordinary aptitude for (please read the book to see how this plays out; it’s really interesting). This is not something I plan on doing to Baby I at all, but at the same time, it makes you think of how to strike that delicate balance between teaching a child how to stick with something and letting something go if they need to.

Still, when I tell you Chua forced her daughters into a certain way of life, I’m kind of making an understatement. Some of the episodes in the book will make you furious at Chua, such as when she justifies screaming at her young daughters for hours, or when they present her with birthday cards (admittedly made last-minute, with minimal effort) and she rejects them and tells them to do better. She sounds incredibly selfish, and also insane.

And yet.

There are moments in the book when I really am convinced that Chua is sacrificing herself because she cares so much about her daughters, and that she’s not really being selfish at all but selfless, making sure they have every opportunity to better themselves.

So what’s the bottom line? I think it’s that Chua, just like every other parent who has ever lived, is not perfect. Will I do things differently with Baby I? Absolutely. I think Chua vascillates between selfish (having them play instruments and get good grades because that’s a reflection of her) and selfless (driving all day so that Lulu can have a violin lesson with a world-renowned musician because it’s a once in a lifetime experience) when she raises her daughters. I think that not allowing them to explore what they like is oppressive (see my posts on plans for raising Baby I). And mostly, I think the way she yells at them is disgusting. But. As much as I want to dump all over her, she is human, and I know I will make mistakes, too. It’s easy to point out all of Chua’s mistakes and pity her girls and declare her borderline abusive when you’re a perfect parent yourself. The only problem is that no one is a perfect parent, so who are we to judge?

This is not a parenting manual. It is a memoir, and I think that’s important to keep in mind while reading it. Chus did not write this book to ask parents to follow her lead or even really to say that her way of parenting is absolutely better than anyone else’s.

At the end, there is a blurb about how Lulu and Sophia helped structure the book. They seem happy; certainly not abused or hated. If you do decide to read this book, I doubt you’ll find an ally in Chua, but remember that this is her story, and it is incredibly valid, even if just as a reminder of what you don’t want to do.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review – Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

  1. I think my mom would like this post. She’s still suffering from some meningitis symptoms, so she’s not allowed to read, but I bet she would have a lot to say.

    As a non parent, and not having read the book, all I could think was that I’m thankful I was raised the way I was raised. Chua is creating a very limited future for her daughters. While they might grow up to be very “successful,” it’s only success in areas their mother has pre-determined to be important. They could be inspiring athletes, singers that touch lives, or actresses that change the depiction of women in film. Or whatever. But we’ll never know because she limited them so much.

    There are things I wish I’d never quit. But I also always had the freedom to discover which areas of life I was/am passionate about. I think the freedom of choice is a huge responsibility and can be exciting and powerful and liberating. And her girls will never know.

    I don’t know. I think she is giving a lot to her girls and probably has great intentions. But all the limitations are so startling to me.

  2. Abbey, I’m so sorry she’s still having symptoms…I hope she’s better soon!

    I agree with you – I’m so thankful that I wasn’t raised like this and given choices. I also have things I gave up that I now wish I hadn’t, but that’s life, ya know? I got to do some pretty awesome things growing up anyway, and if I ever wanted to pick those hobbies I gave up as a child (piano, dance), I can do that later.

    I think Chua’s girls will probably have to deal with some really heavy emotional stuff when they’re older (they were both teenagers when the book was published a little over a year ago), and that’s sad. But I also think there are upsides – those girls will most likely both get full rides to the university of their choice, for instance.

    Mostly, I wanted to defend Chua a little bit because it’s obvious that she made some pretty heinous choices, but if you read the book, I think she knows that on some level. The media were also slamming her really hard when the book came out, but they framed their questions as if she wrote this book as a parenting manual or resource, and that’s not what it is. It’s just her story, take it or leave it.

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