Digging To America
by Anne Tyler
Alfred A. Knopf, New York 2006
Reviewed by Susan H. Body, June 26, 2006
Anne Tyler's newest novel (her 17th) takes place in Baltimore. Like her previous novels, it's the story of a family—or in this case two families, and how they interact with each other inside the family unit and with those outside the immediate family. The book begins with the chance meeting of the Yazdan and Donaldson families at the airport while both are picking up their adopted Korean daughters. Sami and Ziba Yazdan are first-generation Iranian-Americans meeting their new daughter Sooki. Brad and Bitsy Donaldson and their large extended family are meeting their daughter Jin-Ho. The Donaldsons invite the Yazdans for an "arrival party" which becomes an annual event shared by the families.
The story continues with the relationships of these two families for the next seven years. They celebrate their yearly "arrival parties" as well as birthdays, and other types of family get-togethers. The book examines what it means to be an American, and what makes customs and culture. The book makes you acutely aware of the importance of family and belonging. These characters aren't perfect and it's their imperfections that give this book it's humor.
The romance that develops between Dave Donaldson (Bitsy's father) and Maryam Yazdan (Sami's mother) is touching and thought provoking. "He is so American," Maryam said, and she hugged herself as if she felt cold. "He takes up so much space. He seems to be unable to let a room stay as it is; always he has to alter it, to turn on the fan or raise the thermostat or play a record or open the curtains. He has cluttered my life with cell phones and answering machines and a fancy-shmancy teapot that makes my tea taste like metal."
Ziba tries to persuade Maryam that Dave Donaldson's behavior is just male behavior. "No, it's American," Maryam said. "I can't explain why, but it is. Americans are all larger than life. You think that if you keep company with them you will be larger too, but then you see that they're making you shrink; they're expanding and edging you out. I could feel myself slipping away. I was thinking so for a while now!"
I recommend this book. It is a gentle and joyful read. This book gives you plenty to think about, particularly, what it means to be an American today.