Digging to America

ISBN: 0307263940
ISBN 13: 9780307263940
By: Anne Tyler

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Reader's Thoughts

Chimera

is novel Anne Tyler explores the American culture and what it means to be American. But more than that, she looks at how people from different cultural backgrounds can intermingle and reject each other at the same time. How a person can live in a country for more than 30 years, adopt its nationality and yet never really integrate. And by which process someone who has grown and lived in several cultures might build his own identity, torn between his origins, national culture and that of his friends, ultimately mixing it all up and (hopefully) keeping the best from each.Each of her characters is legally American, and yet they all have different levels of foreignness. Maryam was born Iranian but migrated as an adult and now has the American nationality; Sami’s heredity is 100% Iranian but he was born and educated in America; Jin Ho is American by all rights, through adoption, but cant negate her foreign origin… And Susan combines a Korean biological origin, an American upbringing and nationality and the Iranian roots of her adoptive parents. Bitsy and Brad are the only rooted Americans.Throughout the book they all struggle in their own way to fit in and define themselves. From Sami who alternates between being ‘more American than the americans’ and upholding proudly his Iranian heritage; through the Donaldson’s who fear being left out and adopt all the foreign traditions they encounter (adapting them along the way); to Susan who complains about not celebrating Christmas “the way other people do”, even though she had the tree, presents and carolling; each of them has his own tactics and fears.All in all, this is an incredibly insightful look into cultural identity and intermingling, as well as a wonderful, very funny read. Highly recommended!

Bojan Gacic

Be it either an erroneous habit, or a method of intellectual self-protection, the truth is that all of us will draw comparison between the author's book, and the work which we have previously encountered. I'm no exception- comparing and contrasting remains a significant aspect of my reading experience. The key is to develop a standard balanced between high expectatios and a sense of criticism. Hey, everyone's a critic these days, especially when it comes to books and their merit of being time-consuming. My past experiences with Anne Tyler? ''The Accidental Tourist'', that profound and incomparable novel about people, life, and tragedy yet remains in clear memory after nearly three years. My second venture into her work came with ''Breathing Lessons''- most writers essentially with the Pulitzer for some other novel, rarely the one officially bestowed with the honor. By the end I had that semi-nauseous feeling one gets after watching a soap opera. Now, there is this- at times a profound insight into the state perpetual culture shock, the desire to be indistinctive, one of the whole, and the awareness you will always stand out- no matter how flawlessly Americanized you accent is. Two families meet at the Baltimore airport. The Yazdans, immigrants from Iran, and the Donaldsons of Baltimore. They share a particular bond, all are waiting for the same plane, the one carrying their newly-adopted Korean babies. Anne Tyler puts herself in a less than desirable position from the start. Both the families are having their babies ''delivered'' on the same day? Tyler, being the proficient line-and-lenght writer, spins the narrative, as well as your sense of credibility, into her trademark descriptions of day-to-day mechanisms of family life. Through the first hundred or so pages I was willing to disregard the plot irrationalities. Yes, the families begin socializing due to.....? Their mutual need for understanding? -I was able to content myself with the exceedingly-thin-given-the-vast-cultural-differancees elucidation.Maryam Yazdan may be the finest written female character I have read in years. Crafted with skill, and the sense for subtle nuances that mark a person's cultural and intellectual individuality, every thought that goes through her head, and every word she utters possess a sense of trustworthiness. She feels different, we feel for her feeling different, the disappointment of her son Sami disowning himself, their culture, and heritage. Other than Maryam and Sami every other character seems as a cardboard cutout- devoid of step-by-step analysis. You will not be given a chance to care for any of them, which is significant factor in a novel dealing with domestic life embroidered with international circumstances.What eventually made the entire involvement a matter to lament was the extent of cliches Tyler deploys, the narrative taking a woeful turn into a composite of quasi-profound, puke-your-guts remarks, subversively coalesced with post-9/11 propaganda. Really? Those are the reasons why I turn to books rather than TV.If ''Digging to America'' marks your first Anne Tyler novel the odds are in your, meaning her, favor. The rest of us must content ourselves that better book are to come. Could have been better. Should have been better.

Cecilia

I found Digging to America a sweet, compassionate tale of mothers and their love for families…their own families and the families around them. Starting off with the adoption of two Asian girls by two different Baltimore families, Tyler does a great job of combining cultural experiences with those of family and life experiences. Not only the Asian culture is touched upon in this book…one of the families who adopts a child is Iranian. Both adopting families mesh well, with cultural differences sometimes clashing and sometimes not. Tyler is always astute in character development and here is no exception. She expertly crafts each member of the family in their own unique way…giving each member their own due (even it’s a minor character). For the major players, Tyler really allows the reader to embody each…we get into their souls and get to know the whats and whys behind their behavior. A fabulous book by a fabulous author.

Kathy

This is a book to read when you want to relax. It was very calming to me. Two Baltimore families from different cultural backgrounds adopt Korean babies. The first "third" of the book deals with their meeting at the airport, their different parenting styles, and how their lives become indefinately intertwined. The middle "third" deals with the romance of the grandparents. The last "third" deals with how to break the pacifier habit (not exactly the most spellbinding part.) Woven through it all were the threads: what does it mean to be an American and can you ever really totally understand another person, foreign or not.

Anjali

I have to admit I had never heard of this book until I read about it on JoV’s blog. JoV hosted a giveaway on her blog and I was one of the lucky winners. I chose the popular Random Acts of Heroic Love, but she was generous enough to send me a copy of Digging to America along with my chosen book. If not for JoV, I would have never discovered this wonderful book.This book is about two Korean babies who are adopted by two different families based in America. While Jin-Ho is adopted by an American family, Susan is adopted by an Iranian family based in America. These two families come together on the night the babies arrive from Korea and are bonded by the one common thing – adoption of a Korean baby. The two families gradually discover the vast gap in their culture and opinions. They meet at every occasion and religiously celebrate the “Arrival Day” – the day the babies arrived home.Anne Tyler’s Digging to America has an intriguing title. I wondered why it was named this way and didn’t find out the reason until almost half way into the book. Jin-Ho is digging a hole in the backyard one day and wonders just like how she is digging a hole to China, is there a girl in China who is digging a hole to America. And that’s the trigger for the title – and also that all the characters in the book are trying to find a place for themselves in the land of opportunities.We see several characters – the girls themselves, their parents, maternal and paternal grandparents, relatives and so on. The best part of the book is the characterization. I am guessing Tyler reads psychology in her spare time because she understands human mind so well. Each and every character in this book is so real and so beautifully created, that it reminds me of Somerset Maugham. I love his characterization and Tyler comes really close. Of all the intriguing characters, I find Maryam, Susan’s paternal grandmother, the most interesting.The adopted girls, Susan and Jin-Ho, could have been built better. The girls are shown to be different but never explored further. We just know Jin-Ho to be clumsy and pretty whereas Susan is plain yet graceful. It would be interesting to know what the girls felt about their adoption. There is a fleeting mention of the girls not caring for the Arrival Day Party and the video, but I was hoping to read more. I expected a bit more elaboration when Jin-Ho gets an adopted sister – wasn’t there sibling rivalry at all? Also, the incident where Sami and Brat have a fight – this part appears childish and it doesn’t affect the relationships of the character which I found hard to believe.I like the fact that the third person POV changes after every few chapters. The initial few are in Maryam’s POV and it shifts to Ziba, Sami, Bitsy and even Jin-Ho. It needs a bit of context switching and it takes a while to get used to.I need to work with American people on a daily basis and the cultural differences crop up all the time – sometimes totally unexpected. What we call politeness is seen as lack of confidence by the American team. When they try to be frank and open, we see it as rudeness. We constantly check our words hoping not to toe the line and hurt anybody. I could relate so well to the cultural clashes that the characters in this book experience. A very interesting and thought provoking book that one must read.

Elizabeth Buchan

What is it about Anne Tyler? Her territory is family life – plumb ordinary bunches of siblings, stepparents, settled marrieds whose arguments, jealousies, love affairs, moments of crisis and breakdown are as recognizable and quotidian as yours and mine. Yet out of this everyday material, she spins gold: stories so achingly truthful, so achingly funny, so sad and so real that you can only marvel. Digging to America opens on familiar Tyler territory. In 1997 two families gather at Arrivals in Baltimore airport. Bitsy and Brad Donaldson are American: big-hearted, noisy and upfront. Sami and Ziba Yazdan are first generation Iranian-American – polite, reserved and, frequently, more than a little wary of their adoptive country and of Americans such as the Donaldsons. Yet, when their two adopted Korean baby daughters are carried off the plane, the Donaldsons and the Yazdans become irretrievably linked. As Bitsy reflects, ‘so many secret hurts and bruises lay behind this Arrival party’, and the longed-for advent of Susan and Jin-Ho goes a long way to anneal the collective hurt of these childless couples. However, relations between the Donaldsons and the Yazdans are not absolutely straightforward and, here, the family drama segues into the drama of culture clash. For as the two extended families interconnect over the ensuing years - the annual Arrival Party instigated by Bitsy growing ever more elaborate – they rub up against each other in complicated, often puzzling, ways. ‘It’s harder than you realise, being American’ Bitsy’s recently widowed father confides to Maryam, Sami’s cool, reserved mother who, perhaps, is more attached to her role as the exile than is wise. ‘Who on earth would hang a family photo above a toilet?’ wonders Ziba on being let loose in the mysteries of the Donaldson’s bathroom and concludes: ‘Some things about American would forever flummox her.’ Post 9/11 the questions and answers asked by Americans as to who and what they have proved to be troubling. No less so for those who are making their way into the society. These questions act as a counterpoint to the wayward, funny and, sometimes, heartbreaking events of the novel. Yet, if Anne Tyler deals with the themes of displacement and exile, of what constitutes goodness and generosity, she never ever forgets she is a novelist first and foremost. In Digging to America her trademark blend of observant comedy and tragedy, and her window into the human heart, are gloriously apparent.

Susan Wood

Currently reading for a local book club. I would not have chosen this book myself based on the first several pages. It's an easy read, with too many mundane details. I find myself skimming over a lot of the text and that is not what I find an enjoyable. Nonetheless, some of the characters are interesting... we'll see where it goes.Update: I only made it half way through and won't finish it. The book club gave this story a unanimous thumbs down due to sketchy, somewhat schizophrenic, character development, and an unlikely story line. Nothing much here to make you turn the page.

Erin

I'M DOING THAT WEIRD THING AGAIN.It occurs more regularly at those points in life when your bookshelf is particularly bare. I should certainly know, because right now half my books are trying to flatten out a bunch of AMAZING (and yet equally horrible) 90's movie posters I found at a garage sale last month. I'm thinking about wallpapering our living room with the likes of "Heat", "Weird Creatures", "Dante's Peak", and, of course, my favorite, "Jingle All the Way" (never actually saw it, mind you, but the face Arnold Schwarzenegger is making on the front should be the one he makes in every campaign photo. california would be 20x cooler)Anyway, you're really tired because you just came home from shooting a mexican infommercial for 14 hours and you need something to read to unwind while you cook your creamy-chicken-flavored-ramen-noodles. but, mysteriously, there's nothing to read around. so you go hunting for the "sex drugs and cocoa puffs" book you threw behind the couch when you got annoyed at chuck last month, but all you can find, all you can EVER seem to find lately, is "Digging to America", which you have already read and don't really care to restart. but you pick up anyway. because you are DOING THAT THING AGAIN. doing that thing, you know, where you just pick up the book, choose a page, and start reading, only because it's the most convenient thing around, for days and days, until you notice you're starting to piece together the book again the way you first read it. and, whoa, you liked it the first time, because all of anne tyler's books are the kind of mellow slow build that draw you into the characters, not the story, but this time, jumping from place to place, reading chapters at a time, you start to notice things about people you hadn't before, which is why you love these books, because it's just like living with the people you're reading about. which, of course, can be annoying. i find "annoyance" the most common reaction to anne tyler's books. you have to be patient with her characters the same way you're patient with an actual person. they're real. in all their traits and mannerisms and quirks and pitfalls, you have to look really hard to find what tyler may or may not be trying to tell you, (i imagine her to be much like her often absentminded characters, often forgetting what book she's even writing, and not that motivated in the first part to tell you anything in particular, anyway) through the memories and little moments she imparts sporadically throughout the telling. so i'm doing that thing again, but it's turned out kind of nice. just, you know, like spending time with the extended fam.if only doing "that thing" again with "sex, drugs, and cocoa puffs" had worked out quite so nice. chuck might still be around.

Frances

I can't remember an Anne Tyler novel I haven't enjoyed. I like the way she develops her characters and the family relationships.Two families, the Yazdans and the Donaldsons, connect when they meet the Korean babies they're adopting at the airport in the days before September 11, 2001, when a festive greeting party could gather at the gate. The story is narrated by different voices. Maryam, an Iranian-American woman, who is the grandmother of one of the little girls, begins and ends the story, but other characters get a turn at narrating. The two families and their extended families become extended family to one another and share annual "Arrival Day" celebrations and other family gatherings. It was interesting to see how the Yazdans, as immigrants, Americanized their baby's name and raised her to be assimilated into American culture, though also very connected to their extended Iranian-American family. In contrast, Tyler shows the Donaldsons keeping their little girl's Korean name, and dressing her in distinctively Korean clothes. Social class, wealth, culture, the challenges of living as an immigrant are woven into the story. I won't spoil the romantic interest for you by saying anything about that.

Natalie

I really enjoyed this book! I found myself telling people about it over the week or so that I read it. I found it really fascinating -- this look at Americans and "foreigners" -- seen through this tale of two very different families who are brought together by the adoption of Korean baby girls. I loved how different the two families were -- heritage, parenting approaches, personality, etc. I could appreciate the two new mothers and their varied feelings. I could relate to both Bitsy and Ziba, as different as they were from each other. Though, I'm not sure I would have appreciated that aspect of the book if I wasn't yet a mother. I loved how the author really developed the various characters -- the parents and grandparents of the little girls. It was through the character development that the story of the girls was told. I was suprised by all of this -- I'd had the misconception that it was going to be about the girls and their experiences as they grew. But, that was really just a back-drop for the "real" story with Maryam and her inner struggle with her self-proclaimed "outsiderness." My only complaint about the book was the ending. I was a little disappointed -- I wasn't quite ready for it to end where it did. I closed the book feeling like I'd been cut off -- I wanted more. But, as I reflect a bit more, I think it was a very nice way to end the book. I think this would be a great book for a book club -- lots of things to discuss.

Mata

a book about two families who each adopt baby girls from Korea. She weaves all these characters together that are associated with the girls, it's facsinating to see how each character develops after the arrival of the girls, and how the girls fill voids in everyone's life. Highly recommend this book.

Jill

The only reason I stayed with this book is because I had to. It was a snoozer. I have read Tyler before and although her books are not necessarily riveting portraits of family life, usually they are more real and affecting.I've spoken to a few of the women from book club, and on the whole, they seem to agree--though a couple say they loved it. I'll try to contain my harsh criticism...If I ever have insomnia, I will pull this out instead of hitting the Tylenol PMs.

Eric

NOTE: Plot elements revealed: This is a story - in part - about feeling foreign in America. Anne Tyler h focused on an Iranian woman who moved to America to marry an Iranian man - he dies, she is a widow with a married son and daughter-in-law. Her son and daughter-in-law adopt a Korean girl at the same time an American couple do and it "bonds" the families. Eventually the father of the American couple falls in love with the Iranian woman.Notable quotation: The woman from Iran tells her daugher-in-law about the American man who is in love with her "He is so American" "He takes up so much space He seems to be unable to let a room stay as it is; he always has to alter it, to turn on the fan, raise the thermostat or play a record or open the curtains. He has cluttered my life with cell phones and answering machines and a fancy-shmancy teapot that makes my tea taste like metal."The daughter-in-law dared to say "Thats not American, it's just . . . male." p. 212.

Caroline

First of all, I'm a HUGE Anne Tyler fan. To my mind, she can do no wrong. Reading one of her books is like curling up on the couch in a baggy cashmere sweater. That said, this is definitely not one of her strongest. She doesn't develop the characters in any particularly complex way and it's really hard to step into their shoes. Usually her portrayals of families are so hauntingly real, it's almost uncomfortable to read about them, but here it read like the "setting the scene" for a family drama on Lifetime. Held up next to Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake, which deals with similar themes, Digging to America doesn't gain any traction at all.

Hoosier

Two babies from Korea brought together two families--one from the United States and the other from Iran. In Digging to America, Anne Tyler tells the story of how two very different families became close friends to the point of becoming dependent on each other. It is interesting to follow the families adjusting to being parents/grandparents to adopted children, watch how the Iranian family brings their customs to American society, and see how much of the Korean girls' heritage should be retained. I also enjoyed reading about four sets of grandparents and each of their individual approach to being grandparents and welcoming an adopted child into their family. Tyler tells the book from the viewpoints of the main characters, which allows for an interesting insight into the families' dynamics. While I skipped some of the pages towards the end of the book because the story became a bit predictable and repetitive, I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. In fact, this book is perfect for book clubs because there are endless issues to discuss.

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