An excerpt printed in the Wall Street Journal in January, entitled “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” drew sharp criticism and gave Chua instant name recognition worldwide.
“I’m guessing — or fearing — that some of you have only read the Wall Street Journal excerpt,” Chua said, addressing a crowd comprised mostly of parents.
“For the millionth time — no, I did not write that headline. I never saw that headline. And I do not believe that Chinese parenting is superior. I truly believe that there are many ways of being a good parent.”
After explaining that the excerpt had been taken from the very beginning of her book, Chua proceeded to read pages from other sections that more clearly revealed its overall arc.
“You know, it’s funny. I almost sometimes don’t recognize the book when I see it written about in the press,” she said.
Chua emphasized that much of the humor and nuance she had worked to include had gotten lost in the discussion of her book.
"This book is basically a story of our family’s journey in two cultures, and my own transformation as a mother. It is not a parenting book, it’s a memoir. It’s supposed to be comi c-- sort of a self-parody," she said.
Some of the works that she had been trying to emulate, she added, were various memoirs by David Sedaris, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” by Dave Eggers, and “Pale Fire” by Vladimir Nabokov.
“I’ve always liked books where there’s an untrustworthy narrator that’s kind of obtuse and pompous — and you can’t quite believe everything they say,” she said.
“Instead [my book] has been taken as 'Mommie Dearest,' but that wasn’t the original intent.”
The crowd at Barnes & Noble seemed to be largely sympathetic, laughing at the jokes in Chua’s writing and nodding their heads in agreement to many of the statements she made about parenting. And nobody who asked a question during the Q&A portion of the evening took the opportunity to criticize Chua’s parenting methods.
Niteside spoke to some of the parents in attendance in order to get their reactions to Chua.
“I feel like she has a valuable message, as far as making your kid practice something that they’re not necessarily good at until they feel the satisfaction of having worked through it and succeeding,” said Margaret Rutherfurd, whose daughter is 11 years old.
“My daughter has tried everything under the sun, and she has dropped out when it got too hard. I’m afraid that if she has to practice something in order to be good at it, she won’t do it,” she added.
“People read this book and say, ‘she’s so tough — I would never do that to my children.’ But I find it fascinating.”
Marcus Rubin, who has a 2-year-old daughter, had a different response.
“To me, it seems pretty extreme. I’m Scandinavian, and I think that [my culture] is much, much looser — so I’m just fascinated by the entire debate,” he said. “It seems there’s such uncertainty about how people parent, what’s right to do, and what you shouldn’t do.”
“I really came more for the debate than to listen to [Chua]. I kind of think I got her point already, so I was more interested in hearing what other people had to say,” he added.