By Courtland Milloy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 23, 2011; 9:54 PM
Suppose you discovered before tying the knot that your sweetheart would someday morph into a screaming, nagging nana known as a "tiger mom." Would you marry her anyway? Heck, no.
And therein lies the real value of Amy Chua's new book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." This is not a parenting guide. It's a cautionary tale about marriage: A wife is like a box of chocolates, fellows. Except that the chocolates bite you.
Look twice before jumping the broom.
Jed Rubenfeld, apparently, did not. While attending Harvard Law School, he fell for what at first blush appeared to be a demure, socially awkward 20-something classmate.
Poor Amy, the Asian American whiz kid, became so nervous around Jed's friends that she could hardly speak and had to force herself to talk, and, even then, "my sentences came out all garbled with weird words inserted in weird places," she writes.
But once they married and Amy got her tiger mom claws in Jed, all of that garbling suddenly turned into growls.
"The disagreements between me and Jed were growing," Chua writes. "Privately, he'd tell me furiously to show more restraint or to stop making crazy overgeneralizations about Westerners."
Guess what? She never does. Grrr . . .
Many have reacted to Chua's book as if she were making a case for the superiority of Chinese-style parenting. Sure enough, her harsh disciplinary measures result in their two daughters excelling in school and music.
But the youngest, Lulu, still ends up yelling, "I hate you, I hate you," just like teenagers in that TV spot advertising professional psychological help for kids.
When asked to suggest a title for her mother's book, Lulu came up with this: "The Perfect Child and the Flesh-Eating Devil."
Rubenfeld, like Chua, is a Yale law professor. He's also the son of a Jewish psychotherapist and has extensive knowledge of Freudian theory. He even wrote a best-selling thriller about the renowned shrink.
Yet for all of his insight into human nature, by the end of Chua's book you half expect to find Rubenfeld on a therapist's couch.
Page 43: "Jed is constantly criticizing me for comparing Sophia to Lulu." Page 61: "Jed took me aside. He told me to stop insulting Lulu . . . and that he didn't think threatening [her] was helpful." Page 83: "One evening, after another shouting match with the girls over music, I had an argument with Jed."
Poor Jed. If a guy like him ends up married to a flesh eater, then nobody's safe.
So what made him do it? How does a man with everything going for him - smarts, good looks, money - fall for such a woman?
"Happiness is not a concept I tend to dwell on," she writes. "This has always worried me. When I see the piano- and violin-induced calluses on my daughters' fingertips, or the teeth marks on the piano, I'm sometimes seized with doubt."
Doubt about what? That bite marks on a keyboard mean somebody really, really hates piano lessons?
Surely there came a point at which Jed started wondering how he ended up being knotted to a crouching tiger - and one with a hidden dragon, no less. Seriously, by Chua's own account, she appears to have an inner pyromaniac.
"If the next time's not PERFECT," she tells her daughters during piano practice, "I'm going to TAKE ALL YOUR STUFFED ANIMALS AND BURN THEM!"
Chua must have used everything in her arsenal of feminine charms to blind Jed to the warning signs. The flick of a ponytail, perhaps, or a fluttered eyelash; a neckline revealed, a glimpse of leg, a shake of the hip?
Here's an appealing lure:
"Although Jed and I had the same job and I was just as busy as he was at Yale, I was the one who oversaw the girls' homework, Mandarin lessons, and all of their piano and violin practicing," she writes.
Just like tigers in the wild. All the male cat has to do is have fun helping to make the cubs, then wander off while the tiger mom does all the raising. Sounds good at first, until you realize that human tiger moms don't play that.
Beware, young men. It's a jungle out there.