The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap by Gish Jen [in Booklist]
Beloved novelist Gish Jen (World and Town, 2010) expands on the East-West cultural paradigm she applied to examining art and culture in her previous nonfiction work, Tiger Writing (2013), to see “what it can show us about the world.”
As the U.S.-born child of Chinese immigrants, Jen “grew up with the puzzle that was East versus West,” a challenge that has colored her writing and her life. Jen scrutinizes Eastern and Western concepts of self. The “interdependent” self of “collectivistic societies” she dubs the “flexi-self.” The “independent” self she renames the “big pit self,” apropos of the substantially pitted avocado. Her aim is to close the all-too-familiar culture gap. “So much of what mystifies us about the East,” she writes, “need not mystify us.”
What enhances the scientific research and psychological studies, observations and anecdotes, and art lessons and history is Jen’s afflatus. She is a consummate storyteller, even when she’s sharing other people’s stories (no spoilers here on the titular “baggage-claim girl”). Her tale about her mother’s manipulation of her sons will inspire readers to hope that this astute work will be followed by Jen’s sure-to-be-illuminating next novel.