When an excerpt from this book was printed on the front page of the Weekend Journal, it started a fascination with (or repugnance of) Chinese parenting—along with a lot of fan mail and hate mail for Amy Chua. The Journal article, however, led readers a bit astray. It made her book seem like an argument for rigid, Chinese parenting, even coming off to many readers as ra “how-to” guide for parents who want math and music prodigies. The book is actually a memoir about one mother’s struggle to instill Chinese values (hard work, discipline, fortitude, respect) in her kids, and discovering along the way that what works for one kid doesn’t always work for another (the second child,Lulu, rebels at 13). Chua spends much of the book comparing Western parents (too easy on their kids) to Chinese parents (hard on their kids), often in a self-deprecating tone (which many readers missed in the Journal excerpt). She’s both hilarious and serious, mocking herself for making Lulu practice her violin right after getting home from a 3 hour block of lessons at the music school (“nothing like getting a good jump on the next week!”) and then reading about violin techniques and listening to CD’s long after the girls are in bed. But she also reminds us that kids really can do amazing things when they are pushed. This, of course, is the part that makes many Western parents and kids crazy: they argue that kids should be able to choose what they want to do at whatever intensity they want to do it. But Ms. Chua believes (and I agree with her) that most kids have no idea what they want to do until they’re much older, and they’re not likely to pick up a violin or piano or most other studies at age 14 if they’ve never done it before.
I love Chua’s writing style–it’s conversational, sarcastic, funny, deadpan serious, and filled with entertaining anecdotes, some that made me laugh out loud (when Lulu calls her mom Lord Voldemort) and some that made me want to cry (when Lulu screams “I HATE you and I HATE this family” while they’re having dinner in a Moscow restaurant). Whether readers agree or disagree with her methods, I think Chua has a lot to offer parents; namely, that we shouldn’t spend all our time building our children’s self esteem. If we push them to accomplish great things, their self esteem will be just fine. (memoir)