Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Book Review: Digging to America

Title Digging to America
Author Anne Tyler
Genre Literary Fiction
Rating B-

Summary Two families, one American and one Iranian, adopt daughters from Korea and the girls arrive on the same day, forever intertwining the two families' lives (thanks in part to the party-throwing matriarch of the American family). Two of the grandparents who are widowed dance around a "coupling," further twining together the families.

First Line "At eight o'clock in the evening, the Baltimore airport was nearly deserted."

Review The primary emphasis of this book was intended to be addressing questions of what makes an American. Were Maryam, the paternal grandmother, who moved to the United States 35 years before the story starts; her son, Sami, who was born and raised in the United States (and spoke English with no trace of an Iranian accent, and never spoke Farsi); or her daughter-in-law, Ziba, who moved to the United States with her family when she was a teenager American? Are the adopted daughters, two Korean and one Chinese (adopted by the "American" couple), American? I don't know... nor does Tyler.

I don't mean to throw stones, but the only part of this book that bothered me was that the theoretical point of the story, to delve into what makes an "American" isn't really ever handled all that well and/or definitively addressed. This is likely because defining an American is nearly impossible. Also, I'm sure Tyler did a fair amount of research on immigration, but I find it hard to believe that this could be something that she has too much personal knowledge of--maybe I'm wrong, but her bio doesn't seem to hint at that.

That's why I had to mark the book down so much--because Tyler failed to accomplish what she said she was trying to accomplish with this book. If Tyler had said this was simply a book about the dynamics of extended and/or blended families, she would have been phenomenal, perfect, an A+. But she didn't.

Moving beyond plot and themes, let's review the characters. Tyler did her stereotypical multiple narrator delivery--Maryam, Sami, Ziba, Bitsy (the American hostess with the most-est), and Frank (the maternal grandfather of the American family who "couples" with Maryam) all get a chance to sit in the narrator's seat. Maryam gets the most attention, as she's the primary protagonist of this story, but I have to admit that my favorite narrators were Frank (he had a wry wit and pragmatic view of the world) and Jin-Ho (the Korean daughter of the American family has such a funny and unexpected view of her family and the other adopted daughter that her one chapter as narrator was a nice twist).

The short story of this review is that I'd recommend this book to people who like to read stories about family dynamics. It's not a definitive guide to international adoption and/or international affairs, but brings up some interesting questions that beg for further reading.

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