A curious book. Less memoir and more psychoanalysis primer than I was expecting. But I think, overall, good. Probably not the best place for me to hav...moreA curious book. Less memoir and more psychoanalysis primer than I was expecting. But I think, overall, good. Probably not the best place for me to have started with Bechdel, though.(less)
I'm not going to write anything approaching a proper review of this book right now, because doing so would require a lot of time, would result in a fe...moreI'm not going to write anything approaching a proper review of this book right now, because doing so would require a lot of time, would result in a few thousand words, would involve a ton of dissection of class and race and gender dynamics not to mention my own personal history, and would probably mean rereading the book. (Not that rereading it would be so difficult--it's a very fast read; I read it straight through in one sitting on a weeknight.) Instead, here are some scattered and inconclusive observations, in no particular order:
1. This is a book about being an American parent, not about being a Chinese parent.
2. The book does not in any way resemble the book that the media furor (and racially-tinged tar-and-feathering of Chua) made it out to be. This is obvious before you even open it: the front cover says "This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones. But instead it's about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old." There are issues there for sure, but anyone who mistakes this for a parenting how-to needs their glasses checked.
3. This book is, often, hilarious. It's funny and tongue-in-cheek and self-deprecating. It is, as another reviewer has pointed out, deceptively easy to read.
4. I'm not that bothered by Chua's parenting style. She definitely goes too far eventually, but the book is all about that fact. The writing of the book itself is precipitated by the near-disastrous crisis of her going too far, and seems to be in large part an attempt to work out what she did wrong. Chua doesn't spare herself here.
5. I'm a lot more bothered by the way that she makes generalizations and essentializes 'Chinese' and 'Western' parenting. There's a lot to unpack here, but my gut feels queasy at the sense that she's self-exoticizing, playing into the 'model minority' myth. It's more complex than that, though.
6. The book struck home for me pretty hard. Chua and her family are not exactly my family--my parents pushed hard, but did not go for the so-called Asian style of parenting--but they could be close relatives, or dozens of my friends' families. It's quite rare for me to see such an authentic representation of the kind of milieu in which I grew up.
7. Chua states early on that she wanted to write an intergenerational Asian-American family epic novel only to realize that she couldn't do it as well as Amy Tan or Maxine Hong Kingston. This book is clearly her epic.
8. It's interesting to me that while the area in which Chua really drove her daughters, and around which the book's narrative centers, is not an academic subject, not math or science, but music. She's not pushing her daughters to become doctors. She's pushing them in pursuit of art. Which raises a lot of interesting questions. What happens if we read this memoir in the context of the music world rather than the American mainstream parenting world? What does the signifier of classical music say about the persistence of racial barriers?
9. My main thought on finishing the book (aside from hoping that my little sisters somehow become BFFs with Chua's kids!) was that if you're going to drive your kids you need to be doing it for a reason. And I don't much like the default reasons that mainstream US culture provides.
10. I want to tell everyone to go and read the book, not just go by the media image, but I'm also a little hesitant to tell white people to read it, because of the way Chua uses stereotypes.
... I could keep going, but I really don't have time. If you're interested, other people have said more coherent things about this book:
And this is a very interesting and perceptive response to the issues raised by the book but especially by the uproar, from an Asian-American perspective, very much worth reading (though I wish it weren't quite so male-skewed): http://nymag.com/news/features/asian-...(less)
I admit, I did read this after seeing the movie. And I did like the early portions about her youthful affairs the best. I realize that makes it sound...moreI admit, I did read this after seeing the movie. And I did like the early portions about her youthful affairs the best. I realize that makes it sound like I liked the book in a shallow way, for the sensational bits, but really that's not it. Rather, Barber's writing about her childhood and college years offers a truly fascinating look at the development of her mind and the way that, as a young person, she tried to make sense of the world--something we all go through, but often in sharply different ways. Unfortunately once her career in journalism gets going the narrative gets a bit duller. I won't say it stalls, because this a tiny, zippy book full of sharp sentences; it's not long enough to get bogged down. But she stops writing about her own mind and starts writing about her work, and this tale of career success just isn't that interesting. There are a few more flashes of fascination towards the end when she writes about her husband's struggle with cancer, because Barber isn't afraid to be honest about emotions that are not what you are conventionally supposed to feel. She's wonderfully blunt and unsentimental, and I wish she'd managed to show us more of that.(less)
As always with Dinesen, the writing is beautiful and evocative. She observes places and people with a keen eye--and the sympathy she displays makes he...moreAs always with Dinesen, the writing is beautiful and evocative. She observes places and people with a keen eye--and the sympathy she displays makes her unquestioning acceptance of and comfort within the colonialist framework all the more disturbing. I found the wonder of the writing and the window into a particular place, time, and person to be worth it. Others might not.(less)
This seemed to me very slight for its subject matter. Not to discount what Greenberg, his daughter, and their family went through, but... this book se...moreThis seemed to me very slight for its subject matter. Not to discount what Greenberg, his daughter, and their family went through, but... this book seemed to skim the surface of their experience, oddly for a book whose subject matter is so internal. It is built pretty heavily on dialogue, and that just didn't work for me: it reinforced the sense that the story being told was on the outer edge of what was happening.(less)
James Watson is a pompous, sexist ass. The book needs more science and less yammering about all the time that Watson & Crick spent avoiding workin...moreJames Watson is a pompous, sexist ass. The book needs more science and less yammering about all the time that Watson & Crick spent avoiding working and partying.(less)