Book Review: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

The saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” rang especially true in my mind for Amy Chua’s controversial memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. But I did just the opposite as I started it. Excerpts in various outlets, most notably Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, gave only a glimmer of what Chua actually wanted people to take away from her radical child-rearing ways. Also, she was painted in a negative light in a "Today" show interview, but that further sparked my interest in wanting to read her work.

With Battle Hymn, Chua delves into the strict Asian household and chronicles the upbringing of her two daughters Sophia and Lulu (think piano and violin lessons, no grade less than A, no playdates). With her husband Jed, her parents, and in-laws playing supporting roles, Chua is determined to make sure her daughters are raised "the Chinese way" at no expense. Through her experience, Chua learns about living in a "Western" world and tries to hold on to her Chinese morals and values despite what other people say.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I would rate the book a 3 1/2, as there were times when I was completely turned off by Chua’s constant comparisons of Western and Chinese parenting (guess which one she favored), among other things. On the contrary, my heartstrings were tugged during the chapters where the family went through personal problems, such as Chua’s sisters’ battle with leukemia.

There are two ways of looking at Battle Hymn: as a story and as a parenting manual. There were moments while reading the memoir where the two ideas merged for me, but in the end, all Chua was doing was writing a story to document her parenting adventures, as well as her life. She may or may not have intended to be as bold and brass as she comes off, but whether intentional or not, she did make me question what it meant to be successful and how far people could, essentially, be pushed to be their best.
Photo: Penguin