Digging to America
By Anne Tyler
Completed April 13, 2008
In Digging to America, Anne Tyler continued her storytelling mastery of family relationships – but added a new twist. This story focused on two families, the Donaldsons and the Yadzans, who adopted girls from Korea. The Donaldsons represented the “typical” American family while the Yazdans represented a “typical” Iranian-American family. The couples became friends, and this story followed their lives during their first several years as new parents.
The story meandered around the ups and downs of families: the best way to raise children, how to deal with the loss of a family member and what happens when a parent becomes ill. Tyler also examined the added dimension of being adoptive parents, especially of foreign-born children. However, the most interesting aspect of Digging to America was the exploration of what it means to be an “American family” and equally important, what it means to be an American. Compelling characterization – especially of Bitsy Donaldson, the overbearing mother of Jin-Ho, and Maryam Yazdan, the traditional Iranian grandmother – elucidated the challenges these families encountered as they learned about each other.
In my opinion, you have to like the soft whisper of Anne Tyler to appreciate the style of this book. I noticed other reviewers commented that Digging to America lacked conflict, an advanced plot or multi-dimensional characters. I can see how one could make these conclusions. However, I would argue these elements are there – just wrapped in Tyler’s subtle style. By the end of the book, I was thinking about what it means to be an American and how easy it is to become cocooned in your own culture. Digging to America was not one of Tyler’s best, but it certainly was not her worst. I would encourage fans of Anne Tyler to give this one a try.
(cross-posted from my blog)