Late Comment on Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Amy Chua wondered if all the pressure to practice (piano, older child, violin, younger child) she put on her two children was worth it. But then there were moments like these:

In a glass-windowed room overlooking the Mediterranean, Sophia played Mendelsohn’s Rondo Capriccioso, and got bravos and hugs from all the guests.

Which I found the most chilling sentence in the whole book. Her daughter’s recognition (“bravos and hugs”) made Chua very happy. But did it make Sophia happy? Chua doesn’t answer that question. She doesn’t follow the sentence I’ve quoted with “I could see how pleased she was” or “Years later she would say what a good time she had”. Nope, the chapter ends there.

5 Replies to “Late Comment on Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

  1. That’s a fruitful sentence to ponder.

    If Sophia didn’t earn at least some subtraction-of-suffering reward from praise well-earned, then it would be a chilling narration from the mother. As a child pianist, albeit under considerably less pressure, I can assure you that once you’ve submitted to the work necessary to prepare (and especially if you’ve shirked it a little), having a performance come off well (on however large a stage) is a potent reward, no matter the dislike of practice.

    What puts me off is just the status-brag “glass-windowed room overlooking the Mediterranean” (so you know, the people in that room must be AMAZING).

  2. In Alice Miller’s The Drama of The Gifted Child (previously called the Prison of Childhood) where a child’s will is disciplined and often broken into obedience, it makes one wonder whose life wish the child is fulfilling, her own or her mother. Indeed chilling stuff.

  3. With what else would one equip one’s window but glass? An old sheet of polythene held in place by drawing pins? Waxed brown paper?

    Seth: Good question. Maybe the editor was so stunned by what she was reading — the whole book is an enormous surprise — that she forgot to edit.

  4. I go partner dancing a lot, and one thing I’ve noticed about many Asian women is that they are often sexless. They may be dressed sexily; they may look extremely attractive — but it’s all a performance. They are like terrified children putting on a show, like six-year-old Wizards of Oz at the controls of a mannikin that looks thirty and alluring.

    I think it’s a pathology that is passed down through the generations: the young don’t get to enjoy their youth, and they age into mothers that are enraged and determined to get back that which has been lost — which is of course impossible. So they try harder and get angrier, demanding ever more from the doppelganger, pushing the pathology down another generation.

    Something different but analogous happens with enraged, narcissistic Jewish-American mothers and their castrated, humiliated sons. The women often think they are more fabulous than they are, and the men think they are worthless.

  5. Years later one of her kids will try to commit suicide, but by then we’ll all have moved on to new reality entertainment.

    Tom (above) is right on all counts.

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