Two families awaiting the arrival of their adopted infant daughters from Korea meet at the airport. The families lives become interwined after the Donaldsons, a young American couple invite the Yazdan's, Maryam, her son and his Iranian American wife to an arrival party, which becomes an annual event. Maryam, who came to this country thirty-five years earlier, feels her values threatened when she is courted by a newly widowed Donaldson. A penetrating light on the American way as seen from two perspectives, those who are born here and those who are still struggling to fit in.
This was my first Anne Tyler novel. I didn't know what to expect when I started the book, and it was a pleasant discovery for me. I identified with most of the characters. Like the Yazdans, I've lived in a culture as an outsider. Like Maryam, I found it was easier to become friends with other cultural outsiders, even when we didn't share the same cultural background. Like the Donaldsons, I've helplessly watched the decline of a parent and grandparents caused by cancer. As a child, I was part of a welcoming party for an adopted cousin. I know several families who have adopted internationally and/or inter-racially. Reading this book reminded me of those relationships and experiences and how they have enriched my life.
Although I liked this book very much, I'm not sure it's one I'll read again. I think a lot of its impact came from the gradual revelations of character as the book progressed, as well as a few surprises along the way. I don't think a re-reading would have the same effect since I would know what's coming. Even though I won't be re-reading this one, I will be adding more of Tyler's work to my TBR list.
The themes are around cultural differences, emmigration, assimiliation and also family and personal relationships - so are there any others left? I loved the portrayal of the infatuation of a couple, particlarly the wife with another family; but mainly the grandmother and narrator is such a warm and realistic character.
I'd like to know more about Anne Tyler, did she come from another cultural background, because her insights into assimilliation just seem so poignant.
So now I've started on Kafka by the Shore, so then I can finally start crossing off the 1001 list; it by the way has really grabbed me. Isn't reading just a million times better than TV, how many shows can you say you really enjoy, most of it is a bunch of mind numbing rubbish. Books on the other hand, are a whole different story.
Digging to America had me laughing out loud listening to the marvelous narrator (Recorded Books, available as a rental) render Bitsy's relentless optimism, and in Tyler's hands, the detailed descriptions of everyday life, imparted with massive doses of dialog, manage to escape becoming tedious.
Unlike Tyler's usual exploration of her character's role in their family, Digging uses the adoption of two Asian babies by two dissimilar families to explore one's place in their family and their country (both their native and adopted). The two families become friends but raise their children quite differently, all the while keeping an eye on how their child's development compares to the other's. Tyler also spends quite a bit of time on the grandparents to show how a parent's upbringing affects their own childraising methods.
Even though issues are taken more seriously and more directly here than in past Tyler books, it's just as well written as her previous novels. You might think more and laugh less, but Tyler's writing is just as strong and enjoyable in Digging as it is in the best of her earlier works.
I very much enjoyed this book, although it didn't quite take me in the direction I expected to go. Despite the very different attitudes to raising their adopted children, I felt that the two families still inhabited a very insular world, with little or no influence any source other than their own families.
That said, I don't think the characters could have developed in the way they did had it not been for that seeming isolation from external influence forcing them to forge relationships only with each other.
Tyler has created some beautifully drawn characters - the older generation particularly, and I would recommend Digging to America as a quick, fun read.
I did however enjoy the character development. Tyler does an excellent job at letting the reader get a glimpse into each characters world. It adds a lot of depth to the book.
Quote: “The child asleep in Polly’s lab bore almost no connection to the baby on the screen. The sudden ache she felt was very like grief, as if that first Jin-Ho had suddenly passed out of existence.”
I thought this book was excellent- definitely one that I could come back to. Experiencing the same process and life events with two different- very different- families was interesting, particularly because they are continually drawn to each other. The book follows individuals from four distinct cultures: the U.S., Iran, Korea, and, eventually, China, and considers their “Americanness” and their “otherness” together- how they have a huge number of differences, but are ultimately the same.
I have read several people who have not enjoyed this novel very much, but I loved it. In a world that is becoming more, rather than less, segregated by culture which may or may not include nationality, how do we reach out? And whom do we let in? And most importantly, what are we afraid of losing when we do?