Has anyone else noticed lately how American women over 40 all seem to have to adopt an animal persona? (Hmm, is "animal persona" an oxymoron?)
First it was Courtney Cox and the cougar phenomenon, then Sarah Palin, the Mama Grizzly — and now we have Amy Chua the Chinese tiger mother.
I admit it: she had me from “Here are some things my daughters Sophia and Louisa were never allowed to do,” and I devoured all of the deliciously horrifying “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” in a few hours. (Just so you know, I’m not one of those bloggers who writes about a book without actually having read it!)
And while I just wrote an article for this week’s paper comparing stereotypical Chinese moms to stereotypical Jewish moms, the aspect of Chua’s life I of course find most intriguing is that she’s married to a Jewish man [like Chua, hubby Jed Rubenfeld is a Yale law professor] and raising Jewish kids.
Yes, she’s a tiger in the mix. And so is her younger sister Katrin, whose battle with leukemia is featured in the book. (Not clear if Katrin, whose two children are younger than Amy’s, subscribes to the Chinese Mom doctrine and if she’s raising the kids Jewish.)
“The deal Jed and I struck when we got married was that our children would speak Mandarin Chinese and be raised Jewish ... In retrospect, this was a funny deal, because I myself don’t speak Mandarin — my native dialect is Hokkien Chinese — and Jed is not religious in the least,” she writes.
Also discussed in the book are Chua’s parenting culture clashes with her Jewish mother-in-law (“Florence saw childhood as something fleeting to be enjoyed. I saw childhood as a training period, a time to build character and invest for the future.”)
And Chua writes about the bat mitzvahs of Sophia and Louisa, whose nickname is Lulu. Some tidbits: In the run-up to Lulu’s bat mitzvah, “I was the one constantly haranguing Lulu to practice her haftarah portion — I was going to be a Chinese mother even when it came to Hebrew.”
The bat mitzvah signifies a turning point in the relationship between Chua and Lulu.
When Chua, being Chua, forces Lulu to play violin at the ceremony, the 13-year-old, who “has always had a strong Jewish identity” and “insisted on observing Passover rules and fasting on Yom Kippur,” protests (quite rightly) that it’s “completely inappropriate” and that a bat mitzvah is “not a recital.”
Tiger mom threatens to cancel the party if Lulu won’t play, and tiger cub ultimately gives in, enchanting all the guests with a beautiful rendition of Joseph Achron’s “Hebrew Melody.”
But that night, when Chua tells Lulu how proud she is, how “brilliant” Lulu’s violin performance was, the Chinese-Jewish cub is polite but chilly.
“She seemed distracted, almost impatient for me to leave, and something in her eyes told me that my days were numbered,” Chua writes.
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