‘Digging to America’ by Anne Tyler

DiggingToAmerica

Fiction – paperback; Vintage; 336 pages; 2007.

What is it to be an American? And to what lengths will people go to fit in even when they come from far flung places? Is it possible to remain a foreigner even after you have lived in a new country for more than 30 years?

These questions — and more — are explored in Digging to America, Anne Tyler’s 17th novel, which has been critically acclaimed on  both sides of the Atlantic and was recently shortlisted for this year’s Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction.

In typical Anne Tyler fashion, Digging to America revolves around a range of relatively ordinary characters in Baltimore dealing with extraordinary circumstances.

Two couples, both of whom are unable to have children, decide to adopt Korean babies. When they meet by chance at the airport on the day of their daughters’ arrival neither couple could be more different. Bitsy and Brad Donaldson are all-American — loud, brash and unselfconscious about turning Jin-Ho’s arrival into some kind of over-the-top celebration — while Ziba and Sami Yazdan, two American-Iranians, are quiet, shy and restrained as they wait for Sooki — later dubbed Susan because it “was a comfortable sound for Iranians to pronounce” — to be “delivered” into their arms.

From this day onwards the two couples and their extended families are inextricably linked. Each year they celebrate “Arrival Day” — August 15, 1997 — by taking it in turns to host a party. It is through these parties that each family’s individual differences — their attitudes, cultural backgrounds and hopes for the future — begin to shine through. The tension is, at times, palpable. But so too is the fun and the love.

While there is no real storyline to speak of — the plot simply revolves around the various “Arrival Day” celebrations and the events that happen in between — Tyler is able to explore two different views of America — the insider’s and the outsider’s — with tenderness and insight.

She charts the inner workings of the human heart like no other author, and the developing relationship between Sami’s Iranian-born mother, the independent-minded widow Maryam, and Bitsy’s widowed father, Dave, is the strength of this wise, moving and often funny book. I adored every precious word, but then I’d expect nothing less from this exceptionally talented author.

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10 thoughts on “‘Digging to America’ by Anne Tyler

  1. I’m not certain if I didn’t post this correctly or if it was deleted, so I apologize for the repeat if the latter is the case.
    I agree with you on many of your reviews, but this one we are opposite. I found it to be awful. It was so repetitious and extremely boring.
    It was my first Tyler, so I am leery to try another. Oh well…there are many more authors to explore. 🙂

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  2. Joy, please don’t let this experience stop you from exploring the rest of Anne Tyler’s work. She is the most amazing writer. My two personal favourites are Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and The Accidental Tourist. Last year I read The Amateur Marriage and loved it!

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  3. I loved this book. When I turned the last page and closed the cover, I found myself still thinking about the characters. My next Tyler will definitely be Homesick Restaurant. Ever since I read How To Read Literature Like a Professor where it is referenced, it’s been on my mental TBR list.

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  4. I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to read a positive review for Anne Tyler’s “Digging to America”. Everytime I read the blurb at the back of the book I want to grab it but then I am reminded of all the negative reviews and I put it back on the shelf.

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  5. I finished this novel last night and was sorry to see it end. Tyler has this ability in her writing to really love the characters and this book was no exception. My only complaint is that it actually took me a while to ‘get into it’ but I find that a lot of the time with her books. (Amateur Marrige for example). I do look forward to reading more from her collection I haven’t read yet though.

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  6. I think a lot of charm of this book, as with all of Anne Tyler’s books, is if you have “been there.” She writes about real life. If you haven’t lived the kind of ordinary families with children little dramas, it probably is uninteresting. I think anyone who hadn’t been married probably wouldn’t enjoy her writing at all. I am on the list of “love it” and it is one of my favorite of her books, having read all of them.

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