There were so many excerpts from Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother audiobook by Amy Chua that I wanted someone else to listen to, that I was sorry I didn’t listen to this when it came out (in 2011) and everyone else was reading and talking about it. If I had known it was funny, I would have tried to get to it sooner. Whether it was marketing that pushed it as a parenting book, reviewers who got the wrong end of the stick, or just my being misled by the shocked uproar over this book, but I didn’t know it was intended to be humorous.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is a memoir of parenting, but in the way that essays by David Sedaris are memoirs about his own experiences. Pretty nearly everything is exaggerated to the extreme for effect. So, even though readers know 1.) that Amy Chua’s two girls never called Child Services on her; 2.) that the author is a highly respected lawyer married to a highly respected law professor; and 3.) that many arguments can be hugely funny later even though seemingly serious at the time – there were still so many readers posting catty commentary like “What was Jed Rubenfeld doing while wife Amy Chua was calling their children garbage and threatening to burn their stuffed animals?” (Daily Beast) or readers worried about the mental well-being of the two daughters, that I thought the book was intended to be a serious espousal of strict parenting. (From what I can tell, BTW, the two daughters are more than able to handle their mother. And, anyway, she’s given away her parenting secrets now.)
If you have trouble seeing the humor in, for example, The Grinch who Stole Christmas TV show because you feel so sorry for Max the dog even though you know that in the end all will be well, the Grinch’s heart grows several sizes, and, after the story ends, the Grinch might even publish a best-selling book about his personal growth as a dog-owner and Who-advocate – then this book with its epic, knock-down-drag-out battles between mother Amy and daughter Lulu over violin practice and older daughter Sophia’s scorned efforts at peacemaking is not for you. Like the original Grinch TV show, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is a sharply worded, cleverly constructed cartoon.
The author narrates the audiobook, which lends it authenticity, and she does an excellent job of it, although you may notice her being extra careful to enunciate at times, something that isn’t usually obvious with professional audiobook narrators. Listen to an excerpt from Penguin Audio here.
For a balanced take on the distinctions between “Western” parenting and “Asian” parenting made in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, I like this Telegraph article, The Discipline of a Chinese Mother from UK novelist Allison Pearson, author of I Don’t Know How She Does It.
Here’s one infamous scene from one of Lulu’s refusals to practice her violin, described in Chapter 11:
She punched, kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have The Little White Donkey perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, “I thought you were going to the Salvation Army. Why are you still here?” I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent, and pathetic.
Jed took me aside. He told me to stop insulting Lulu – which I wasn’t even doing, I was just motivating her…
The book had a little too much about music practice for me (Amy Chua is clearly a classical music lover.) and a little too much about the family pet Samoyed, but I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s journey through a hellish period of motherhood to come out the other side a little older, wiser, and not so over-confident.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
Chua, Amy, author & narrator
Penguin Audio, 2011
6 hours, 5 CDs
Disclosure: I borrowed this audiobook through my public library system.