Anne Tyler’s been one of my favorite author’s since I read Breathing Lessons and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Her stories are character-driven and authentic. There is a subtle poignancy in the midst of silent humor in the narrative and in the portrayal of her characters. In Digging to America, however, the humor becomes more evident but it is also balanced out by a melancholy feeling that accompanies it.
August 15, 1997 is a significant date for two couples of Baltimore: the all-American Bitsy and Brad Donaldson and the Iranian immigrants Sami and Ziba Yazdan are at the airport waiting for the arrival of the Korean babies they have adopted. What follows is an emerging of unlikely friendships with the families as they celebrated the significance of the date — they referred to it afterwards as the Arrival Day — year after year.
What struck close to my heart were the anecdotes concerning the Korean babies, Susan and Jin-Ho. I easily gravitated towards the motherhood aspect of the story and I silently agreed with the confusion and guilt that accompany parenting as clearly shown by Ziba and Bitsy. The Yazdans are an eccentric mix while the Donaldsons are more straightforward. I honestly had a difficult time following the family tree as I navigated the names and affinities of the extended families, but I also enjoyed every scene that follows each time the two families congregated.
Maryam Yazdan was a truly engaging character. I almost forgot that Anne Tyler is fond of portraying adult characters so it came to me as a bit of surprise — and also a welcome respite from the YA novels I’d been reading — when I soon discovered that the story revolves more around Maryam. Her insecurities and anxieties, her nostalgia and confusion, even her conflicted feelings, all these reminded me of the beauty of Anne Tyler’s portrayal of the authenticity of adult life.
I am not American and I have never been to America and even though I get fascinated by several things American, I can never truly say how and what it means to be American. Anne Tyler, thankfully, gave me a glimpse of how it is to be one and how it is to be in America even though you are not of America. Digging to America is, in effect, a dissection of truly belonging and of establishing roots whether in America, or elsewhere.
“You belong,” he told her. “You belong just as much as I do, or, who, or Bitsy or … It’s just like Christmas. We all think the others belong more.”
My Rating: 3/5 stars.
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