Theme for an American Dream
Reviewed by Gayatri Rajwade

The Triple Package: What Really Determines Success
by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld Bloomsbury India. Rs 499

The Triple Package: What Really Determines SuccessThe style is easy, almost light. The content: determining success. So can a book on how success is "packaged" be recounted in a breezy narrative? The Triple Package sets out to do just that and succeeds, considerably.

Written with an eagle-eye view to what makes "The American Dream" tick for America and her immigrant population, the husband-and-wife duo of Amy Chua (perhaps best known in India for her autobiographical Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother on strict Asian parenting in liberal America) and Jed Rubenfeld, have set forth what they believe is a three-fold mantra that determines success.

They would perhaps know. Both Chua and Rubenfeld, American-Chinese and Jewish respectively, are law professors at Yale and examples and studies pertaining to their own cultural groups, amongst others, abound to explain their viewpoint. The Triple Package as it were, comprises three strands: A superiority complex "a deeply internalised belief in your group's specialness, exceptionality, or superiority", insecurity perceptions of being an outsider, not fitting in, not being good enough, being in peril or losing what one has and impulse control, resisting temptation to give up in the face of hardship. These together provide "a cultural explanation of group success."

The duo makes liberal use of researches and studies done to prove their theories. Sample this: In June 2012, the Pew Research Centre (a non-partisan American think tank, based out of Washington DC) released a report, The Rise of the Asian Americans, describing Asians as the "highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group" in the US.

So what makes this piece of information so interesting to us, Indian readers of this distinctly "American" book?

Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, American-Chinese and Jewish respectively, are law professors at Yale. The husband-wife duo examines determinants of success in US
Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, American-Chinese and Jewish respectively, are law professors at Yale. The husband-wife duo examines determinants of success in US

The "Asian American" covers all US residents having origins in the Far East, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent which is where we come in. According to their research, Indian Americans have the highest median household income of any Census-tracked ethnic group in the United States. And there are hard figures to go with this!

And this is not all. There are statistical figures pertaining to Ivy League college admissions, the Scripps National Spelling Bee, prominent names in business, politics et al. Chua and Rubenfeld put out figures that cannot but help you read ahead, if only to find out more about your own cultural group and how we figure in relation to other groups.

All this is giddy information despite the book largely explaining an "American" phenomenon. In an attempt to give us a "big picture" so to speak, Chua and Rubenfeld use the Mormons and African Americans from within the American cultural strata to Nigerians, Lebanese, Iranians, Cubans and, of course, Jews and Chinese cultural groups to illustrate their points that success in America today comes more often to groups who resist today's dominant American culture.

The book is replete with examples from studies done within groups, sub-groups explaining inter-racial conflicts, intra-racial issues. And whilst they have delved deep into their sources and material, quoted liberally from achievers in all cultural groups, their examples range too wide, from serious investigations to examples from popular American television serials like The Wire and Breaking Bad. This may be to keep the writing from getting too dry to allowing for conjectures to rise up in a book that may raise storms due to its "racial" subject.

This, unfortunately, also dilutes the gravity of the theory they are trying to lay out. In defence of the book it must be said, that Chua and Rubenfeld have tried to keep their arguments balanced, putting forward their painstaking study of numerous sources (a quick glance at the "notes" section at the end of the book will tell all) to explain the efficacy of their 'triple package' as well as its demerits that includes a narrow definition of success, "that Triple Package cultures tend to focus on material, conventional and prestige-oriented success."

Lucid, easy-to-read and well-written, the book is just a tad bit to earnest and too deeply linked to the "American Dream" for it to be acknowledged as a universal endorsement to success. However, what Chua and Rubenfeld have done is make that American Dream dream-able, in a triple package no less!