I've been wanting to lay hands on Amy Chua's book for the last several months. My library never had it and finally I got so impatient that I ordered a copy through Flipkart. I won't quote too many things out of the book or give you a synopsis because everyone knows what the books is supposedly all about. It is a memoir of Chua's journey as a parent, her insistence on Chinese parenting (rooted in her belief of Western parenting being permissive and negligent) and her ultimate humbling by her 13-year old daughter.
First off, I found the book very engaging. Chua writes well, clearly and humorously. The book is funny and ironical in parts (which I think American reviewers completely did not get. Chua herself mentions that the irony was much better appreciated in the UK). I myself managed to finish the book in 2 straight sittings and in just about 2 hours.
Second, the book is not a how-to manual on parenting, but a parenting memoir. Chua constantly compares the Western and Chinese styles of parenting (and by Chinese, she means a school of parenting that is highly visible in many other ethnic groups such as Koreans and Indians). While you may or may not agree with her parenting style, many of us from India would readily identify with her constant expectation of excellence from her daughters, her inability to accept anything less than superlative performance, and her being a parent and not a friend to them. Haven't we all come from such families or at the very least known of friends who had such parents?
Third, the most intriguing question raised by the book is "How do you live life to the fullest?" Amy Chua believes the only way to do so is to explore your potential to it's absolute max. She believes that if you give a 5-year old a "choice" then he will just spend all his time playing video games, spending hours on Facebook and eating disgusting junk food. In that, she is absolutely correct. Children do need to be pushed to do better and best. Chua mentions as her mantra, several times, the Chinese "virtuous cycle" where hard work begets achievement begets praise begets hard work begets more achievement. At the same time, she leaves no room for the child's unique temperament and interests and like any other zealot, she took things too far in her quest for excellence.
I'm aware that at some point in time, I may perhaps have to bear down heavily on my children in order to make them overcome any self-imposed limitations. At the same time, making that one's mission in life to the exclusion of everything else, is simply crazy. There were many passages in the book where I was thinking "Dear God, I hope she's kidding. She's MAD!!" Strong opinions, anyone??? For example, this oft-repeated passage from the first few pages of the book.
Here are some things my daughters were never allowed to do:
- attend a sleepover
- have a playdate
- be in a school play
- complain about not being in a school play
- watch TV or play computer games
- choose their own extra-curricular activities
- get any grade less than an A
- not be the #1 student in any subject except gym and drama
- play any instrument other than the piano or violin
- not play the piano or violin
I liked the book for it's honesty (though sometimes I had my doubts whether the author was being deliberately provocative!). Chua comes across as bigoted in many many instances, but then all of us have seen mothers/people like that, who have strong vocal opinions on many issues and don't hesitate to put down others. I don't agree with her paranoid, alpha-aggressive treatment of her daughters ("for their own good"), some of which seemed downright cruel and insensitive. My main takeaway from the book has been a heightened awareness of how important it is to know where to draw the line - between fun and hard work, creating good childhood memories and building a solid learning foundation. The book says "Just because you love something doesn't mean you'll be good at it. Not unless you work really hard at it. And once you become really good, you'll love it even more."