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Digging to America by Anne Tyler

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Digging to America by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler’s novel Digging to America begins with the Donaldson and the Yazdan families at the airport. The two families are awaiting babies from Korea – the all American family and the family of Iranian immigrants. The two baby girls are coming, together, from Korea for adoption. The American family is larger than life – and nosier – video-taping the event. The babies arrive, Jin-Ho and Sooki. Forevermore their adopted daughters link these two families. The Donaldsons, Bitsy and Brad, want to retain their daughter’s Korean name and include her Korean culture in their lives. The immigrant family, the Yazdans, Ziba and Sami, immediately change their daughter’s name to Susan. It is 15 August 1997.

These families would have had little in common if not for the adoption. It is Bitsy who initiates the friendship, wanting the children to be friends as they grow up. The reader is brought into the homes of both families, and the extended families. We see how everyone, not just the precious little girls, grow and change as the children mature. Bitsy orchestrates the beginning of the adoption day parties, extravaganzas of food and gifts and expectations.

We come to know Sami’s mother, Maryam. She has been a widow for many years. Coming to America as a bride she has kept much of her culture, while becoming integrated. Now that her own parents have died she does not travel to her birth country – the ties are now gone. Her son Sami sees himself as American, as does his wife, Ziba. They dress and behave as Americans – it is the food and the parties, when it is their turn to host, that identify them as Iranian-Americans.

These two couples have become parents, a dramatic identity change. We share the family gatherings year after year as the babies become girls, and the parents mature. Bitsy is the driving force – sometimes irritating but always so truly sincere and good-hearted. The two couples, through their children, have now become best friends, and as best friends do, they share the joys and the tragedies of life.

This book is much less quirky than earlier novels by Anne Tyler. I read this book along with a book club, something I have not done for several years. It was an interesting experience, as we had such diverse opinions about this novel. Many of the members of the book club were immigrants to Canada, and shared a different perspective than those of us born here. There was also discussion and some disagreement about the quality of the writing – I wouldn’t call this a literary novel, but Anne Tyler is a good writer, and this novel is a good read. If you’re looking for a well written, and interesting family story Digging to America does the job. 

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