Journey of a Thousand Miles by Lang Lang (2008)

Not too long ago,  I read (and gave to my students) one of Tom Friedman’s articles about American education and how we’re falling woefully behind other countries.  I’ve been a fan of his columns–and books–for a long time, but that article succinctly captured much of his philosophy into a single piece of writing that was easily accessible, even to my 9th graders.  Then, just this week, I finished Lang Lang’s book at the same time Amy Chua’s article on Chinese parenting hit the front page of the Wall Street Journal.  And so, I’m immersed in the East vs. West approach to parenting, to music, to education, to success.  There are no easy answers, but clearly the Eastern approach holds kids to a higher standard, an approach I support, though I certainly do not fit the mold of the Chinese parent.  Not that Lang Lang’s dad accurately represents Chinese parenting–he’s way over the top, even for the “Asian” approach.  But his story is fascinating–it made me laugh, cringe, smile, and hold my breath.  Sometimes simultaneously.  Lang Lang is an only child, a product of the one child per family law, and he was gifted at the piano from an early age.  He received his first piano before he was two, and he played it into the night.  But his success has at least as much to do with his own drive and his father’s demands as his innate genius ability. Eight and nine hours a day at the piano, by the age of 9, is beyond what most kids could withstand, physically or mentally.  He practices when their apartment is so cold he cannot sleep, he practices when he’s hungry and unable to afford a decent meal, he practices when his father or teacher berate him, and he practices as a way to relax.  It’s a complicated story showing his journey from a village in the north of China to the conservatory in Beijing to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia to his first paid concert to his lavish lifestyle today, where he is in demand in every city and with every major symphony.  His story is inspirational and it’s scary.  He shows us how much more we could all be achieving if only we put forth more effort, but he also shows us that his father crossed the line–more than once–in their effort to propel Lang Lang to be number one.  (non-fiction, memoir)

One comment

  1. Very encouraging review – thank you. I’ve spent all weekend watching Lang Lang on YouTube, very curious indeed about how he perceives himself as an executant/musician. I will now buy this book as a result of reading your review 🙂


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