Girl at the Baggage Claim


A provocative and important study of the different ideas Easterners and Westerners have about the self and society and what this means for current debates in art, education, geopolitics, and business. Never have East and West come as close as they are today, yet we are still baffled by one another. Is our mantra “To thine own self be true”? Or do we believe we belong to something larger than ourselves—a family, a religion, a troop—that claims our first allegiance? Gish Jen—drawing on a treasure trove of stories and personal anecdotes, as well as cutting-edge research in cultural psychology—reveals how this difference shapes what we perceive and remember, what we say and do and make—how it shapes everything from our ideas about copying and talking in class to the difference between Apple and Alibaba. As engaging as it is illuminating, this is a book that stands to profoundly enrich our understanding of ourselves and of our world.
“Today we are often encouraged to give one sentence summaries on almost any subject. [But] since identity is such a complex subject, it makes me so happy that Gish Jen has had the courage and patience to make a deep layered study of it.  This is not a luxury enterprise, but a necessary one, because, these days, when a person is charged with making an important decision based on simplistic views of humanity, we all end up losing…”
—Yo-Yo Ma
“Subtle, erudite, and daring, The Girl at the Baggage Claim is a tour de force by one of the most insightful writers of our time.” —Amy Chua, Professor, Yale Law School, and author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
“Insightful, far-reaching and a joy to read, Gish Jen takes on the mystery of cultural difference, and succeeds in cracking the code. The Girl at the Baggage Claim answers questions I’ve been asking my whole life.” —David Henry Hwang, author of M. Butterfly
“In her trademark lively and witty prose, Gish Jen not only limns non-Western views of the self but questions whether the Western self is really a natural way to be. A powerful, provocative work.” —Michael Puett, Professor of Chinese History at Harvard University, and author of The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life
“Science has revealed how our senses filter the world around us—making us focus on visual boundaries, musical repetition, and musky odors. With her novelist’s insights, Gish Jen shows us how differences in culture can filter our world as well. The Girl at the Baggage Claim is truly eye-opening and thought-provoking.” —Eric Lander, president and founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University
“Misunderstanding East-West differences can cost us in every way we know how to measure: in money, friendship, education, in the balance of power, and the fate of the planet. The Girl at the Baggage Claim is remarkable and fluent but, most of all, essential.“ —Sherry Turkle, Professor, MIT, and author of Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.
“A beautifully observed book with a perfect, light tone, The Girl at the Baggage Claim poignantly captures the personal tussle between independence and interdependence so many of us are caught in. A must read for anyone navigating the East-West divide.” —Priya Natarajan, Professor, Yale University, and author of Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal the Cosmos.
“This book gives special proof to the belief that our best novelists are also our best psychologists. With characteristic wit and unfailing insight, Gish Jen creates a genre all her own—uniquely universal, deeply serious, and unselfconsciously joyous.” —Maryanne Wolf, Professor, Tufts University, and author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain

“Gish Jen turns her novelist’s eye to the exploration of the centuries-old enigma of why people in the East and the West see themselves, others, society, and culture so differently…[As Trump] butts heads with China, it behooves us to consider just how shallow is our understanding of China…[making] this book both timely and extremely important.” –Washington Post

“VERDICT: An excellent and engaging read, sure to appeal to readers interested in cross-cultural communication, cognitive science, and the experiences of Asian Americans in the United States” –Library Journal

“[Jen] unpacks tough subjects, such as racism and prejudice in America, with sophisticated insight [and] articulates the complexities of culture with a novelist’s command of language.” –Publishers Weekly