tiger book


For author Gish Jen, the daughter of Chinese immigrant parents, books were once an Outsider’s Guide to the Universe. But they were something more, too. Through her eclectic childhood reading, Jen stumbled onto a cultural phenomenon that would fuel her writing for decades to come: the profound difference in self-narration that underlies the gap often perceived between East and West.

Drawing on a rich array of sources, from paintings to behavioral studies to her father’s striking account of his childhood in China, this accessible book not only illuminates Jen’s own development and celebrated work but also explores the aesthetic and psychic roots of the independent and interdependent self—each mode of selfhood yielding a distinct way of observing, remembering, and narrating the world.

In its progress from a moving evocation of one writer’s life to a convincing delineation of the forces that have shaped our experience for millennia, Tiger Writing radically shifts the way we understand ourselves and our art-making.

“Gish Jen is the Great American Novelist we’re always hearing about, and in Tiger Writing she delivers a profound meditation on the divergent roles that storytelling, artmaking, and selfhood take on across the East–West divide. Penetrating, inspired, and, yes, indispensable.” —Junot Díaz
“A magnificent feat of integration … I am proud, proud, proud to share ancestors—and the novel and the world—with Gish Jen.” —Maxine Hong Kingston
“I loved it! Tiger Writing is both precise and intimate, a terrific contribution to our understanding of the artist’s lot in the East and in the West.” —Gary Shteyngart
“How to balance the competing claims of social order and self-determination? It’s a question that all novelists must grapple with, and Jen, drawing on extensive research in the social sciences as well as her own vividly-rendered biography, gives us an entirely new answer. The result is a strikingly original —and compellingly personal—account of the novel as a genre.”—Amanda Claybaugh, Harvard University
“Blending family memoir, cultural criticism, and reflections on her own life as a writer, Gish Jen makes a compelling case for the novel as a meeting-ground of typically American themes of independence with classically Asian ideals of interdependence. Tiger Writing is a rare case of a book on writing that itself is a joy to read.” —David Damrosch, Harvard University

“Probing, precise, and extremely thought-provoking, this is a small volume about big ideas.” –Boston Globe

“[A] thoughtful-and often witty – volume.. Jen raises important questions about how we fashion own stories and how cultural differences influence that process,” – Publishers Weekly

“VERDICT: These pieces are as entertaining as they are insightful.” – Library Journal

“In Tiger Writing, which transcribes the Massey Lectures she delivered at Harvard University last year, Jen …  concludes that ‘we need both the interdependent and the independent self’ and calls each one to recognize the claims of the other” – The New York Times Book Review

“Elegant and wide-ranging…” –ShelfAwareness (starred review)