Digging to America

ISBN: 0307263940
ISBN 13: 9780307263940
By: Anne Tyler

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Reader's Thoughts

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.


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.


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.


I'm not 1005 an Anne Tyler fan and at times I grow tired of her, find her overrated. But I did like this book, and found some parts of the storyline quite compelling. Its basically a story about what constitutes an American today: how and/or why one becomes an American, and what sort of American that would be. In the story, two very different families--one 'Anglo' and one first and second generation Iranian immigrants, each adopt a baby girl from Korea. How the family members of each family group react to his event as time goes by, how they change or how they struggle with change, is the tension line but the true protagonist is Maryam, the Iranian gandmother of one of the little Korean girls. Maryam, a rebel in her native Iran before the Iranian 1979 Revolution, came to the US as a young bride to meet her Iranian doctor husband in Baltimore. How she did and did not adapt, her nostalgia for Iran, her resentment towards America and some American characteristics, make up the bulk of the true dramatic conflict.And herein lay the biggest problem for me: the novel is told in several points of views. Not only did many of these POVs not work for me (especially one of the Korean girl's POV, since in no way did I buy that as the voice of a supposedly 8 or 9 year old) but Maryam's POV is so powerful and her conflict so truly compelling that I kept wanting the other character's storylines to end so i could get back to Maryam, who really did hold my attention.On the other hand, I found the ending satisfying and, having many close Iranian friends, feel nothing but admiration for Anne Tyler's ability to transmit this different culture to us, and to inhabit Maryam's head, when as an Iranian woman her life experience must be so different from Tyler's own.


I'm always amazed how Ann Tyler can write such riveting stories where not all that much happens. It's all about the characters and "Digging To America" is no exception. It follows the intertwined lives of two couples who meet at the Baltimore Airport when picking up their adopted Korean daughters. Bitsy and Brad are white upper-class Americans, while Sami and Ziba are Iranian-Americans. Their friendship spans their daughters' childhood.What I really enjoyed about this book is the insight about infertility and adoption, which has been called everyone's second choice. We see how hard the couples tried to conceive and how adoption turned out to be different than they expected. (Ziba weeps uncontrolably one night as her daughter sleeps, wondering "Where is my own baby?")


So right off the bat, it's Anne Tyler, so it's pretty good at describing family life. Two Korean girls are adopted by different families who meet at the gate (back when the countries delivered babies vs. traveling to get them) and become friends. I initially thought it would be about young parents but it's actually more about the grandparents. Considering most of the topics/issues discussed weren't those I was interested, the story held my attention. For example, the setting was Baltimore, the one grandmother was from Iran so there was much description of her cooking which I skimmed over and of course the issues of adoption. I'm glad it was short, but I was hoping it would go into the girls' relationship as they got older and it didn't.


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.


The title of this book comes from this question: if children in the U.S. dig a hole to China, are children in China digging to America? This seems to be a metaphor for the question of whether perhaps we're all, even the most American-seeming American, digging to America, or trying to figure out what it means to be American.When the Donaldson (American through-and-through) and the Yazdans (Iranian-American) adopt baby girls from Korea on the same day, the families become the best of friends. It is no surprise, perhaps, that the Donaldsons opt to keep their baby's Korean name and put lots of emphasis on her Korean heritage, whereas the Yazdans Americanize their daughter's name, and generally raise her as an American.Unpredictably, it seems that the Donaldsons look as much to the Yazdans for clues about raising their daughter as the other way around. Which is what this book is really about, I think. It's not about being American. it's about creating a family.


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.

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.

Sharm Alagaratnam

This book seems to have been following me around for the past couple of years, sneaking up on me in airports and various 3-for-2 offers that I see in bookshops. About a month ago I started requesting books from the library that have either won or been on the shortlist for competitions in the past, such as the Booker and the Orange prizes. Anne Tyler's book made the 2007 Orange shortlist.The plot itself is intriguing enough. Two American couples, one homey Baltimore and the other Iranian in flavour, become friends when they each adopt a little girl from Korea. Their family lives become intertwined through the girls, their parents and grandparents. So far, so cosy. But..The language in the book is very casual, so much so that it took me a while to get used to in the beginning, and I found the use of certain words such as 'lugging' jarring. Or is that an American vs. British English difference? In general the read was easy, almost like watching a soap on tv. The flip side of that is the almost indifference to its characters that the book inspires, despite the love and loss that the book serves up to try and endear itself to you.The characters do grow on you slowly but right to the end I had the sneaking suspicion that none of the characters could be or ever have been real, so completely did each of them embody the stereotype they represented. This included the cute little girls, the all-American father and grandfather, the exotic Iranian grandmother and all the neighbours!Interestingly, I found the most honest (or convincing) thoughts and conversations in the book to be about (national and cultural) identity and self, but surprisingly not that of the adopted girls. Perhaps I just expected something different from this book than the lazy, superficial story it delivered. Not one I would recommend to others.


I've had a couple of Anne Tyler novels on my shelf for over 20 years. However, I have never been able to get past the first few pages. There is something about the writing that is incredibly dull. At first I thought "Digging to America" was going to be another unread Anne Tyler but I persisted through the first chapter (the point at which I have normally given up) and it began to improve. Like others, I thought some of the characters, particularly Bitsy, were awful. I also didn't like the chapter where Bitsy threw a "binky" party, to encourage/force her 2nd adopted daughter to give up her pacifiers (or "dummies" as we call them in Australia). I would have given that chapter the chop if I were the editor. However, I was interested enough in Maryam, and later in Maryam and Dave's relationship to keep reading. I actually thought that the ending was really well done and was quite touching, one of the few satisfying endings of all that I have read recently. It has only taken me one afternoon staying inside out of the hot weather to complete this novel, so I feel as if I have overcome a personal Anne Tyler hurdle.


I've read all of Anne Tyler's books, many of them more than once. What never ceases to amaze me is how much emotion there is between the lines. The proposal scene will break your heart. I confess after studying it that I still don't quite understand how its emotional impact is achieved. Understated, certainly. Unexpected, yes. Organic because nothing else could have happened here.Ms. Tyler loves every one of her characters dearly. There are no ugly souls in her books, just ordinary people who make mistakes.


A story about fitting in, not fitting in, and all the perceptions we have about ourselves, our lives, and how it is all supposed to fit together. Or not? While certainly not a literary novel, it makes one think about the United States in its constant immigration influx and outflux, how aging affects it all, especially language and memory, and what we can or can not live without as we age. I truly enjoyed listening to this book - what a lively read! *Rounded up from 3.5 stars.


Tyler creates an interesting story centering around two families who adopt children from Korea in the autumn of 1997. They meet at the airport on the "arrival day" and subsequently plan to meet on the day in the future to commemorate the children's arrival in America. The most interesting aspects of the book surround Maryam, the grandmother of one of the girls, an Iranian widow who struggles to find her place in America; and that of Dave, the American widower, who is the grandfather of the other adopted child.The majority of the book was a fulfilling story, with many perspectives on what it is like to embrace your "adopted" country, like the Korean girls, and Maryam do throughout the book. Towards the end, Tyler abruptly shifts narrators to one of the young girls, and the tone and style are suddenly jarring and silly, specifically in regards to the "binky fairy" that other reviewers have mentioned here. It is laughable, and sticks out like "a sore thumb" from the well thought-out interpersonal relations and inner thoughts that make up the rest of the novel.Overall, an engaging story with interesting views on modern culture and traditions in the United States.

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