Sunday, January 15, 2012
Third Place Books
January 13, 2012
Let’s start by being impressed Amy Chua came back; not to Seattle but to the author tour circuit. After a year removed from the release of her memoir, Battle Hyme of the Tiger Mother it’s impressive that an author like Ms. Chua has endured. She was called a monster, the worst mother in the world, the Chinese equivalent to Joan Crawford: Mao-ie Dearest heck you name it she was called it.
In the past few weeks the media has said she had gone soft. “Tiger mom retreats” screamed the headlines. The media reports she allows her children to have sleep overs now, implying that somehow Ms. Chua realizes the errors of her ways. Poppycock.
Of course this time I refuse to get sucked into the trap of letting the media frame the story again. When the publicity for Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom first came out, I figured Amy Chua to be a sanctimonious self-righteous ego maniac and that when she came to Seattle on her book tour I would be proven right. Then I saw Ms. Chua in person without the media filter and in my shame, came away with a different opinion. (See my original review from last year)
How did this all start?
Jump back a year in January 2011 when Ms. Chua’s book first came out.
The U.S. economy, is rotting and decimated. President Obama, was playing host to China’s, Hu Jintao, and as the Chinese President strutted around like a CEO who just purchased the United States in a hostile takeover.
Couple that with the PISA, tests announcing that Students in Shanghai were number one in every category, including English, while America’s education system failed. Yes the country that once landed a man of the moon found its children dumber than kids in Hungary, Slovenia and Estonia.
You could hear the Ivy League WASPs shaking in their shoes about the prospects of printing college applications in Polish or Estonian to attract the best and the brightest.
Then Ms. Chua’s book came out to the review from the Wall Street Journal and America found someone they could take out their frustrations regarding China. It’s all right that China owns our debt and it don’t bother me that them kids are smarter than us but ain’t no one gonna tell me how to raise my kids. Especially after I still have to pay off the overdraft charge buying my kid a new XBOX 360 so little junior can sit his overweight ignorant butt on the couch and play Grand Theft Auto. Who does that Chinese woman think she is?”
Of course this completely disregards the fact that Ms. Chua was born and raised in the U.S. but why let facts get in the way of a good rant.
Oh how Fox News Corp went sideways in those days. The Today show’s Meredith Vieira could barely contain her shock and disgust during an interview.New York Times ubercolumist David Brooks called her a "Wimp."“ My favorite comment came from Chinese American novelist, Deanna Fei(subject of my first and one of my lousiest reviews) who wrote this gem:
“I received a reply from my mother: a correspondingly loving message, along with a declaration that Amy Chua's depiction of Chinese mothers was ‘totally distorted’ and that Chua herself was ‘a hysterical control freak.’
Of course, in many ways, she was right.”
Wow whee wouldn’t you love to sit between these two women at a dinner party?
When I saw Ms. Chua during her first book tour, I came to realize that most missed the point and as for Ms. Chua going soft: they missed the point again. Her message was the same, what
The book was a memoir. Chua wrote about how she was trapped between her parent’s culture of the old world and the new world her daughters would live in thus deciding the strict method used by Ms. Chua’s own parents was the correct paradigm. To some readers in America, the method came across harsh and even inflexible but there were others, even non-Chinese, who could relate to Chua’s world even finding the humor she intended.
Compared to last year's appearance to the one tonight and I didn’t see a difference in the author’s message. What I did see was the difference in her.
The last time she took the stage Ms. Chua strode up to the podium with an aura made of kevlar that would have stopped an RPG at thirty feet. Let's be honest, who wouldn’t be on guard in the face of the hostile crows whipped up by the Wall Street Journal?
That was last year, tonight, as Ms. Chua popped her head into the room, something happened that I have only seen in one other author reading; the crowd broke into spontaneous applause before she was introduced.
This was the author tour she must have hoped to have a year ago. This was the author reading any writer would hope to have. Sure the controversy helped fuel sales and no doubt why she is on tour again. Yet, while the sound of the controversy still exists: the fury seems to have died down. This time around Ms. Chua seemed relaxed, like a person who could be herself and now she could share the message she wanted to deliver a year ago.
Ms. Chua has been all over the world now, but little has changed in her message as she hit upon the same points she did on her last book tour, sans distractions. When anuthor attains this level of fame it can be a detriment when an audience comes to listen. Massive success and yearlong book tours can make for a tired, staid reading. I was worried when I read the previous night; Chua was speaking at the legendary Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. How would she perform when her next gig was on the small stage at Seattle’s Third Place Books. Would there be a letdown? Some authors might have mailed it in but tonight Amy Chua spoke as if she were giving this talk for the first time.
I looked harder for any signs of change. Maybe I was missing something. As I observed the first time she came to Seattle, this is a woman of will. She possesses that rare combination of both will and stage presence making for a riveting evening. As she speaks I wonder how many authors would have backed down from the backlash she received last year. How many people would have taken the death threats and vitriol placed upon her family and sacked it in or just made them bitter?
It takes will to raise children. It takes will to make it in this world and people like Amy Chua and her parents before her understood this. It also takes will to go out night after night to live audiences not knowing what reaction you are going to face when the groundwork of the major media has already done its best to define you. Sometimes you have to step up show both your daughters and the world that you can’t let the bully win.
During the book signing, as I gathered my things to leave and I heard a woman in line say something to Ms. Chua that sounded like an apology. Then she mentioned how glad she was to have seen the author speak tonight. Amy Chua flashed that brilliant smile and in the most sincere voice responded, “Thanks for giving me a chance.
Another skeptic won over.