American writer Gish Jen takes a personality quiz to a whole new level with her latest non-fiction book “Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap.” Defying the laws of a regular narrative, Jen takes her readers on a ride through different cultural approaches with the “Big-pit self” and “Flexi-self” to show how different cultures bring up different types of individuals for specific purposes. Although this book is fascinating in its own light, it can be a hard to absorb on the first reading. This book is not particularly a relaxing read, but a challenging one that gives the reader something of substance to consider.
The design of the book’s front cover truly encompasses what is inside. Displaying two vertical divided colors of red and blue, it demonstrates the differences of countries, people, views and religions among other things discussed by Jen.
Another interesting concept teased on the cover is the cutout of a girl to represent the girl at the baggage claim, but the cutout is white. When stepping back and looking at the cover’s colors of red, white and blue, it makes up the colors of the American flag, a non-coincidental selection.
The physical book is very inviting and interesting and makes readers want to pick it up and learn something, which is exactly what Jen desires from her readers. It is clear that one of Jen’s main goals is for her readers is for them to learn about the east and west culture gap and then want to do something about it.
Jen begins her book with a story of a Chinese family who sends their intelligent daughter to school in America, but the school representatives discover that she is not the girl they anticipated when they pick her up at the baggage claim, but instead the girl’s sister.
Jen then dives right into the analysis of the independent “Big-pit self” and interdependent “Flexi-self,” and how these two different types of people affect the way society and countries are run. She then bounces back and forth from her extensive research on her Chinese culture such as their unfathomable tests, parental obligations, and pushing beyond boundaries, while here in America, people and rules are more relaxed.
Using stories and anecdotes of her own, Jen makes the narrative personal, particularly when she discusses her own family expectations. Throughout her story she interweaves how society as a whole should be more accepting of other culture’s traditions abd emphasizes how cultural acceptance is the key to global peace.
While the book cover and topic is compelling, the overall content is dry. By using personal anecdotes, research and personal stories, it almost overwhelms her main points on the independent and interdependent selves.
Although the book is neatly divided up in parts with chapters related to a specific topic, it is easy for the reader to forget what they were reading because of the endless array of chapters on the one subject.
The title is also misleading for this type of book. “The Girl at the Baggage Claim” gives the allusion of an upcoming narrative, but once readers begin, they discover that this book is far from it. Instead of a narrative it takes the form of an academic paper in book form. Perhaps altering the title, or incorporating more of a literary construction would add more flavor to the overall story while still providing readers with a challenging concept.
Jen is a very seasoned academic writer in her previous publications, and this type of book does not disappoint if that is the type of writing a reader is interested in pursing. However, this is not the type of book to pick up arbitrarily at a supermarket checkout line for fun.
Jen’s presentation of the book at Shippensburg University was more enjoyable than actually reading the book. While Jen is critically acclaimed for her views on closing the culture gap, this idea of the independent and interdependent self would have been more appropriate in an essay than a non-fiction book.
Although this book was an accomplishment for Jen to finish, it is not worth the reread. It is a once and done read that will soon take up space in the bookshelf.