The joy of reading an Anne Tyler novel comes from meeting real
characters --- people who easily might be your friends, neighbors
or relatives; individuals who you care for and worry about. DIGGING
TO AMERICA is Tyler's 17th novel, a work of joy, sadness, hope and
fear that will resonate in the heart and soul of readers long after
the final page is turned.
DIGGING TO AMERICA presents all that readers have grown to expect
and appreciate about Tyler's novels that focus on the lives of
residents of Baltimore, Maryland. But in this latest work, a new
generation of characters and personalities from Korea, Iran and
China are introduced to readers in a fashion that speaks volumes on
issues as current as today's headlines. America as a nation remains
the sum of all its parts, and the hopes and aspirations of a new
generation of immigrants is the subject of this superb novel.
Two families, vastly divergent but sharing the commonality of
adopted daughters from a far away land, serve as the underpinning
for DIGGING TO AMERICA. Their chance meeting at the airport on the
day their infant daughters arrive from Korea to begin life in
America is a significant event, much like a marriage, that causes
the two families to become one.
Brad and Bitsy Donaldson (although she continues to use her maiden
name of Dickinson) make the welcome of their child at Baltimore's
international airport a show business event. Video cameras and name
tags identify each member of their extended family marking the
occasion. The Donaldson child, Jin-Ho, maintains her Korean name
and many elements of her Korean heritage. The second Korean child
arriving that day is the daughter of Ziba and Sami Yazdan, a
first-generation Iranian couple. The Yazdens will Americanize their
daughter's name from Sooki to Susan. Over the coming years they
take all possible steps to instill in their child every feasible
aspect of American culture.
Through the efforts of Bitsy the two families begin to keep in
touch. The anniversary of the children's arrival in America is
marked by an "Arrival Party" where the video of the children
meeting their new parents is shown, and for some unexplained reason
the song "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain" is sung. The
celebration becomes a mix of American, Korean and Iranian culture,
not to be missed by family members.
Anne Tyler, a very private woman, was married for 34 years to an
Iranian psychiatrist who died in 1997. Perhaps this life experience
has tailored her writing in DIGGING TO AMERICA. The multicultural
spirit evident in the novel is a unique change from her past work.
It offers the reader a refreshing and new perspective on our
nation's increasingly multicultural way of life.
As the lives of the two families continue to interlock, a new and
separate relationship starts to flourish. Bitsy's widowed father,
Dave, begins a relationship with Sami's widowed mother Maryam.
Tyler's poignant description of Dave's isolated experience during
his wife's illness and his resulting loneliness is written in the
understated style that often appears in a Tyler novel. Most readers
who have suffered such loss will find comfort and understanding in
the beautiful words that explain why Dave needs the safe harbor of
a relationship in his life.
DIGGING TO AMERICA is a warm and moving work of literature. It is
what one has come to expect of an author as exquisite and
accomplished as Anne Tyler. From authors such as she, we gain a
mirror into the foibles of our own lives. It is why great authors
write and lovers of books continue to read.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on December 29, 2010
Digging to America