Amy Chua sings another kind of song in "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom," a handbook for mothers who want to act like the wicked fairy-tale stepmother with the questionably benign purpose of making sure their offspring learn Mandarin, understand particle-beam physics and perform in Carnegie Hall, no matter what the sacrifices. You could call her technique metaphorical foot-binding.
Born in the Midwest to Filipino immigrants of Chinese descent, Chua also characterizes herself as an outsider with childhood angst. Today, she's a Yale law professor who wishes she could have had an ordinary bologna sandwich "like everybody else." But there's lots more here than obsessing over bologna deprivation. Chua knows she's tapping into every mother's guilt for "not doing enough."
In these times of two-career families and microwave dinners, of soaring college tuitions and overwhelming competition to get into the elite universities, she reaches into Everyparent's anxieties. Her book coincides with studies that show American students as way short of the math and science scores of their Asian counterparts, exposing a dangerous decline in learning.
By making herself a tyrant -- rejecting her daughters' handmade birthday cards, forbidding girly sleepovers and play dates -- the Tiger Mom enables the reader to feel superior to her emotionally, while at the same time forcing a debate over the best way to train the next generation. Her Jewish husband -- they're raising their daughters Jewish -- offers "Jewish-mother" balance. Both parents are well accomplished, suggesting nature as well as nurture, that genes as well as discipline is at work. Like Lady Gaga, Tiger Mom characterizes other mothers as like herself. "I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify, too," she says.
Both Lady Gaga and the Tiger Mom are smart, talented and slick. No one -- well, not everyone -- begrudges them the big bucks they'll earn from their hard work in music halls and motherhood, in composing and writing. But we should be intelligent critics, not easily duped or naive, and recognize that their message is hyped for the hard sell, dumbed-down and sensationed-up, over-generalized, overwrought, overdone and overrated. Buyers beware.