Tiger Writing, a trilogy of talks Jen delivered as part of Harvard's Massey Lectures programme, examines the core differences between the novels of East and West.
Reading between the lines of East and West with Gish Jen
Harvard University Press
Tiger Writing is a trilogy of lectures originally delivered by Gish Jen – a Chinese-American writer with four novels to her name – as part of Harvard’s Massey Lectures programme. The purpose of her talk was to examine the core differences between the western and eastern novel. What emerged was the concept of independent versus interdependent narratives, each specific to its own culture.
Before delving into what exactly divides Asian literature from its western counterpart, Jen expounds on her own literary journey, beginning with her father’s efforts on his own autobiography. Through a thoughtful, almost loving analysis of his sense of perception of familial and natural relationships, the interdependence prominent in most Asian and Asian-American novels gains some much-needed recognition in relation to how its writers often define themselves as the sum of their immediate family and the generations before them. In contrast, individualism is what marks American and European literature, wherein the episodic nature of life endows its writers with singular purpose and perspective in their narratives.
Cultural differences have never been an easy topic to broach, but Jen handles it with care, dignity and some unexpected humour.