Author Amy Chua’s third book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, is a chatty, witty, intimate memoir of how she raised two daughters in hyper-severe Chinese style, despite the surrounding children of permissive American parents.
Chua’s father, a leading theorist of advanced mathematics, gave her a model for perfectionism. In eighth grade, she placed second in a history contest. Someone else was named best all-around student. She invited her family to the ceremony.
“Afterward,” she writes, “my father said to me: ‘Never, never, disgrace me like that again.'”
She pursued that model. Though generous with family fun and affection, she denied her daughters, Sophia and Louisa (Lulu), experiences that are important to many young Americans: no TV, no pets, no computer games, no sleepovers, no play dates, no grades under A, no parts in school plays, no complaints about not having parts in school plays, no choice of extracurricular activities, nothing less than top places in any school class except gym and drama, no musical instruments except piano or violin.
Here are some things Amy Chua would never 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
* not play the piano or violin
The truth is Lulu and Sophia would never have had time for a playdate. They were too busy practicing their instruments (two to three hours a day and double sessions on the weekend) and perfecting their Mandarin.
Of course no one is perfect, including Chua herself. Witness this scene:
According to Sophia, here are three things I actually said to her at the piano as I supervised her practicing:
1. Oh my God, you’re just getting worse and worse.
2. I’m going to count to three, then I want musicality.
3. If the next time’s not PERFECT, I’m going to take all your stuffed animals and burn them.
But Chua demands as much of herself as she does of her daughters. And in her sacrifices-the exacting attention spent studying her daughters’ performances, the office hours lost shuttling the girls to lessons-the depth of her love for her children becomes clear. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is an eye-opening exploration of the differences in Eastern and Western parenting—and the lessons parents and children everywhere teach one another.
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