Digging to America

Perhaps it was because I ‘read’ this book as an audio book, and so got to enjoy all the various accents.  Perhaps it was because the experience of an immigrant to America (or into another culture generally) is so close to my own experience.  I really enjoyed the book Digging to America by Anne Tyler.  I didn’t like all the characters, but I think that was intentional.  You were supposed to make assumptions about some of the characters and then change them as the characters developed and were revealed.

The action of the novel revolves around two families who are brought together when their adopted Korean daughters arrive on the same flight to Baltimore.  They strike up a friendship that initially revolves around their culturally similar daughters and the experience of adoption.  Over the length of the novel, the families grow in this friendship.  One of the families is Iranian, the other ‘American’.  Each family deals with their child’s cultural background quite differently, which raises tensions between them.  The ‘Iranian’ family has dealt with their own cultural integration into this country and chooses to raise their daughter in an ‘American’ way.  The American family places a high value on ensuring their daughter is raised as much in her own cultural tradition as possible.

Each year the two families gather for an ‘Arrival Party’ to mark the day the girls arrived in America.  As the years go by the two families intertwine and change.  Tensions come and go.

I found the subplot around Maryam, the Iranian grandmother, particularly interesting.  She struggles throughout the book with her feeling of otherness, that her outsider status somehow defines her and her experience.  She begins dating the grandfather of the ‘American’ family and it brings out all of her insecurities about her status and identity.

While my own experiences made me appreciate all these questions around ‘otherness’ and how much to integrate into a culture, I think anyone would enjoy this book for its great writing and the questions it raises about the expectations this country places on immigrants.

I definitely recommend this book and am so glad I read it after the disappointment of “Earthly Possessions”.

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