Amy Chua: Take Two

I previously wrote a post about what I thought of her short article on Wall Street Journal. After I found out that it was basically a cobbled-together essay of excerpts from her book, I felt insanely stupid: What right did I have to judge her based on an attention-grabbing headline and an essay that does not reflect the whole story?

So I went and read her book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.”

She’s hilarious.

I did a few more Google searches on the lady and found an interview with her that shows a more conciliatory side to her and that she meant the book to be tongue-in-cheek. While I probably didn’t understand the “tongue-in-cheek” part when I was reading it, it certainly was a funny story.

First off, I think I have to admit that I kind of identify with her/her family. Her family history sounds insanely like mine (same dialect, same Chinese province origin, same immigration route of parents/grandparents), and while I would be technically considered “her generation” (the one born in America with the immigrant parents), I am closer to the age of her daughters. Therefore I can’t completely relate to her. But knowing that she is very much like my family makes me feel a sort of kinship towards her, and therefore I have a favorable bias towards her. Secondly, I saw her interview with Meredith Viera on the Today Show and so I got a taste of the way she speaks and her sense of humor.

Clarification now done, I will say that I kinda liked the book. It moves very quickly and is an easy read. You know that she is going to get her comeauppeance for her extreme parenting style, and she inserts enough anecdotes and her daughters’ words that makes it quite funny. Her interactions with her daughters are so relatable – my favorite quote being from her youngest daughter, “Stop hovering over me like Lord Voldemort!” Harry Potter shout-out!

Amy Chua definitely learns her lesson; pushing your child to the extreme can lead to incredibly great results – or incredibly disastrous ones. And she had two daughters that fortunately showed her both sides of the coin. I am amazed at how her husband stuck by her all those years, because Chua presents herself as quite the villain. Her words are strong and to the point, and she never tries to euphemize the situation. If anything, you don’t end up cheering for her at all. And to think – she’s the narrator. You’re supposed to somehow like the narrator.

I guess that frank self-awareness is what makes her book tongue-in-cheek. Since she’s writing after the incidents, she has had plenty of time for self-reflection, and the numerous drafts helped refine her story as well as refine her views in parenting. I also think she presents herself as a bit more outrageous than she really is. In some ways, the people in the book all seem to be characters, and not real representations of the people they’re supposed to be. There were times when I wondered whether Amy Chua was telling the truth, or whether she was exaggerating. She makes every fight that she has with her youngest daughter full of yelling and screaming, and describing it like a battle. It’s kind of funny because it sounds so unrealistic (especially since she and her daughters reportedly have a close relationship), so anyone who takes her words at face value would be a fool. It may be true and the fights may have happened, but they may not have been as bad as we, or I, imagine it to be.When using such extreme language as she does, one ends up questioning the reliability of the narrator. While she does seem to be quite reliable, she also seems to be such a character that I can’t completely take her word for what it is. She’s still a Chinese mother; Chinese mothers tend to over-exaggerate.

Certain parts of her book seem like they have no relation to the core of the book, which is her relationship with her daughters. Her chapters about the dogs illustrate just how contradictory she can be; she’d relax and be lax towards the dogs, but demanding and tense with her daughters. It’s an unfair treatment system that even she is aware of, and she doesn’t seem to address it at all. However, her concessions at the end of the book show that she has succumbed to those contradictions, and she can no longer be two completely different people to both; the system will not work for long.

I was surprised to find that a majority of the book is focused on her daughters’ musical careers (which, if they really are that illustrious, make me feel absolutely lazy and also make me think that they should just be musicians when they’re older). There are a few sentences that say how they still get straight A’s, but schoolwork and studying are rarely mentioned. In a way, it sounds like she never had to force them to study, and it sounds like them having straight A’s was something to be taken for granted. What – just because they’re half-Chinese, it’s to be expected? Ha!

Overall, I found myself laughing, and feeling amused, tense, anxious, and relieved. It’s nice that her short book can cover all those emotions. I think it was because I so badly wanted her Chinese way of parenting to prevail, but I was deathly afraid to see if her marriage or her children would crumble before it. I wanted Chua to succeed in everything because I wanted her to be able to prove that her strict parenting worked, and that she could have everything (successful career, marriage, children, life). Of course, it was inevitable that not everything could work out, but she manages to have a happy ending anyways. Her daughters, no matter the pressures they underwent, have come out incredibly strong and are successful representations of all the values she tried to instill. Looking past all the surface matters (the violin practices, the piano practices, the teachers, the concerts, the auditions), Chua was trying to instill a sense of strength, ambition, good ethics, and diligence in her daughters. And she succeeded.

I think she ended the book the best way possible – a conversation with her daughters on how to end the book.

(article source: wsj)


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