Digging to America

Digging to America

3.7 4
by Anne Tyler
     
 

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BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Anne Tyler's The Beginner's Goodbye.

Anne Tyler’s richest, most deeply searching novel–a story about what it is to be an American, and about Iranian-born Maryam Yazdan, who, after 35 years in this country, must finally come to terms with her “outsiderness.”

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Overview

BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Anne Tyler's The Beginner's Goodbye.

Anne Tyler’s richest, most deeply searching novel–a story about what it is to be an American, and about Iranian-born Maryam Yazdan, who, after 35 years in this country, must finally come to terms with her “outsiderness.”

Two families, who would otherwise never have come together, meet by chance at the Baltimore airport – the Donaldsons, a very American couple, and the Yazdans, Maryam’s fully assimilated son and his attractive Iranian wife. Each couple is awaiting the arrival of an adopted infant daughter from Korea. After the instant babies from distant Asia are delivered, Bitsy Donaldson impulsively invites the Yazdans to celebrate: an “arrival party” that from then on is repeated every year as the two families become more and more deeply intertwined. Even Maryam is drawn in – up to a point. When she finds herself being courted by Bitsy Donaldson’s recently widowed father, all the values she cherishes – her traditions, her privacy, her otherness–are suddenly threatened.

A luminous novel brimming with subtle, funny, and tender observations that immerse us in the challenges of both sides of the American story.

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Editorial Reviews

Michiko Kakutani
Like Ms. Tyler's best novels, Digging to America gives us an intimate picture of middle-class family life: its satisfactions and discontents, its ability to suffocate and console. But at the same time the story ventures into territory more usually associated with writers like Jhumpa Lahiri and Gish Jen. It looks at the promises and perils of the American Dream and the knotty, layered relationship — made up in equal parts of envy, admiration, resentment and plain befuddlement — that can develop between native-born Americans and more recent immigrants intent on making their way through the often baffling byways of the New World.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Blair Brown is one of those rare performers who can capture an author's voice to perfection. She's had plenty of practice performing audiobooks, including Linda Fairstein's Death Dance. Her vibrant reading of Digging manifests her outstanding talent as she moves lightly and briskly through the narrative, pausing ever so slightly before Tyler's clever punch lines for added effect. Brown makes this wry satire about the adoption of foreign babies so laugh-out-loud funny that standup comics could study her timing. Both adults and children are played to perfection. Brown's enactment of Iranian immigrant Maryam Yazdan and Ziba, her daughter-in-law, is amazing in her accurate reproduction of the soft and liquid Farsi vowels. In contrast, American-born Sami, Maryam's son, speaks like the prototypical Easterner. Brown remembers that the children of immigrants sound like their peers, not their parents. This hilarious audiobook actually improves a fine novel. Simultaneous release with the Knopf hardcover (Reviews, Feb. 27). (June) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The author's 17th novel exemplifies her skill at depicting seemingly quiet and unremarkable lives with sympathy and humor. Set in Tyler's beloved Baltimore, with some side excursions into the Washington, DC, area, the story concentrates on two middle-class couples who meet when their adopted Korean daughters arrive on the same flight from Asia. At first the new parents appear to have little in common other than the infants. The Donaldsons, who have waited many years for a child, personify stereotypical American white-bread suburbia, while the younger Yazdans are linked to a large and lively Iranian immigrant community. As years pass and the annual multicultural "arrival party" for the little girls becomes a shared tradition, the families and their sometimes eccentric relatives become ever more closely linked. Several perspectives spotlight the various characters' small misunderstandings, larger hurts, and shared moments of warmth, especially those between dignified grandmother Maryam Yazdan and a recently widowed member of the Donaldson clan, whose brief romance threatens the established web of relationships. A touching, well-crafted tale of friendship, families, and what it means to be an American. Recommended for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/06.]-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Two families arrive at the Baltimore/Washington International Airport in August 1997 to claim the Korean infants they have adopted. Strangers until that evening, they are destined to begin a friendship that will span their adoptive daughters' childhoods. Bitsy and Brad Donaldson are the quintessential middle-class, white American couple. Sami and Ziba Yazdan are Iranian Americans. From the beginning, the differences in the ways they will raise their daughters are obvious: Bitsy's well-meaning but overzealous efforts to retain her child's Korean heritage are evident in the chosen name-Jin-Ho-and in the Korean costumes that she dresses the girl in every year as they mark the anniversary of the adoption date. The Yazdans are comfortable with their daughter Susan's assimilation into their own Iranian-American culture. When Bitsy's widowed father begins to show romantic interest in Susan's grandmother, cultural differences are brought to a head. Tyler weaves a story that speaks to how we come to terms with our identity in multicultural America, and how we form friendships that move beyond the unease of differences. She does not dwell on the September 11 attacks, but subtly portrays the distrust that the Yazdans have to endure in the following months. Tyler's gift, as in her other novels, is her ability to infuse the commonplace with meaning and grace, and teens will appreciate her perceptiveness in exploring relationships within and between families across the cultural spectrum.-Kim Dare, Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The veteran novelist (The Amateur Marriage, 2004, etc.) extends her range without losing her essence in this tale of two families drawn together by their adopted daughters despite the friction created by their very different personalities and ethnicities. On Aug. 15, 1997, two baby girls arrive at the Baltimore airport from Korea. Jin-Ho is swept into the exuberant arms of Bitsy and Brad Dickinson-Donaldson, who are throwing "what looked like a gigantic baby shower" in the waiting room with their extended family. Sooki is quietly handed over to the Yazdans-Sami and his wife, Ziba, accompanied by his mother, Iranian immigrant Maryam-who rename her Susan. Wanting to connect Jin-Ho with another Korean child, outgoing Bitsy pulls the Yazdans into her family's orbit and establishes the annual tradition of celebrating the girls' Arrival Day. The two couples become close, especially Bitsy and Ziba, but Maryam is dubious about these brash Americans, with their slightly tactless self-assurance and intrusive questions about Iranian traditions. The ensuing culture clash enriches Tyler's narrative without diminishing her skills as an engaging storyteller and delicate analyst of personality. She examines the insecurities underneath Bitsy's overbearing manner, American-born Sami's amused condescension toward both his natal home and the land of his ancestors and a host of other complex aspects of her well-developed characters, including Ziba's nouveau-riche parents and Bitsy's easygoing father, Dave. Maryam is the novel's central figure: a teenaged immigrant, widowed before she was 40, who has never felt quite at home anywhere and maintains a critical distance from Americans and Iranians alike. OnlyDave breaches her defenses. After his beloved wife's death-Tyler's portrait of his grieving is sensitive and touching-he unabashedly declares his need for Maryam, who reciprocates and then panics. Readers will hope that these flawed, lovable people will find happiness, but they won't be sure until the final page, so deftly has the author balanced the forces that keep us apart against those that bring us together. Vintage Tyler, with enough fresh, new touches to earn her the next generation of fans. First printing of 300,000
From the Publisher
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“Tyler shapes her stories with a reassuring and uplifting clarity.” —The Gazette (Montreal)

“As in her previous books, the writing here makes for wholesome, comforting fare, spiced as always with urbane wit and a knack for nailing the small truths behind fine details.” —The Globe and Mail

“In Digging to America, Tyler also holds up a mirror to the wider North American culture, especially the contemporary obsession with child-rearing that makes young children kings and queens in their households. . . . You’ll find yourself laughing at all the apt and telling details Tyler summons up to capture how these two families interact — and often fail to understand each other.” —Vancouver Sun

“Tyler is an adept cultural chronicler. . . . She zeroes in on the minutiae of social encounters. . . . Hers is a portrait of small segment of society painted in elaborate detail.” —National Post

“A subtle lesson in how to embrace other cultures — how to go beyond tolerance to love.” —Winnipeg Free Press

“In Digging to America, Tyler exhibits her knack for softening the sharp edges of human contact, showing people with smudges of vulnerability on their faces as they dig toward each other.” —Toronto Star

“Her prose is at once unpretentious and elegiac, like a photograph by Dorothea Lange, and her imagery has staying power. Taken together, the distinct but overlapping worlds of her novels have formed a Sensurround literary record of the 20th-century American family.” —The New York Times

“Warm and optimistic, this story about adoption raises issues of belonging and identity” The Times (UK)

“Anne Tyler returns to her subtle best with a novel about families involved in international adoptions” —Observer (UK)

“In Digging to America, Tyler also holds up a mirror to the wider North American culture, especially the contemporary obsession with child-rearing that makes young children kings and queens in their households…. You’ll find yourself laughing at all the apt and telling details Tyler summons up to capture how these two families interact — and often fail to understand each other.” — The Vancouver Sun

“Anne Tyler’s richest, most deeply searching novel.” — The Daily News (Halifax)

“Tyler is an adept cultural chronicler. . . . She zeroes in on the minutiae of social encounters. . . . Hers is a portrait of small segment of society painted in elaborate detail.” — National Post
“The appearance of a new novel by Anne Tyler is like the arrival of an old friend . . . With her 17th novel, Tyler has delivered something startlingly fresh while retaining everything we love about her work . . . Her success at portraying culture clash and the complex longings and resentments of those new to America confirms what we knew, or should have known, all along: There’s nothing small about Tyler’s world, nothing precious about her attention to the hopes and fears of ordinary people.”
–Ron Charles, Washington Post Book World
“Ms. Tyler deserves her reputation as a master of the fine threads of human relationships. The barely registered slights, fleeting intuitions and shivers of pity that pass between these characters are a pleasure to behold.”
–Tara Gallagher, The Wall Street Journal
“Anne Tyler has written 17 novels and you only wish for more. Her newest, Digging to America, is wonderfully wry, yet intimately involving. There’s a definite sense of loss when it’s over and done.”
–Sheryl Connelly, New York Daily News
“Tyler encompasses the collision of cultures without losing her sharp focus on the daily dramas of modern family life in her 17th novel . . . [A] touching, humorous story.”
Publishers Weekly
“Tyler creates many blissful moments of high emotion and keen humor while broaching hard truths about cultural differences, communication breakdowns, and family configurations. This deeply human tale of valiantly improvised lives is one of Tyler’s best.”
–Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“The veteran novelist extends her range without losing her essence in this tale of two families drawn together by their adopted daughters despite the friction created by their very different personalities and ethnicities . . . The ensuing culture clash enriches Tyler’s narrative without diminishing her skills as an engaging storyteller and delicate analyst of personality . . . Readers will hope that these flawed, lovable people will find happiness, but they won’t be sure until the final page, so deftly has the author balanced the forces that keep us apart against those that bring us together. Vintage Tyler, with enough fresh, new touches to earn her the next generation of fans.”
Kirkus Reviews
“The author’s 17th novel exemplifies her skill at depicting seemingly quiet and unremarkable lives with sympathy and humor . . . A touching, well-crafted tale of friendship, families, and what it means to be an American.”
Library Journal (starred review)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307265531
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/02/2006
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
94,004
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

At eight o'clock in the evening, the Baltimore airport was nearly deserted. The wide gray corridors were empty, and the newsstands were dark, and the coffee shops were closed. Most of the gates had admitted their last flights. Their signboards were blank and their rows of vinyl chairs unoccupied and ghostly.

But you could hear a distant hum, a murmur of anticipation, at the far end of Pier D. You could see an overexcited child spinning herself into dizziness in the center of the corridor, and then a grownup popping forth to scoop her up and carry her, giggling and squirming, back into the waiting area. And a latecomer, a woman in a yellow dress, was rushing toward the gate with an armful of long-stemmed roses.

Step around the bend, then, and you'd come upon what looked like a gigantic baby shower. The entire waiting area for the flight from San Francisco was packed with people bearing pink- and blue-wrapped gifts, or hanging on to flotillas of silvery balloons printed with IT'S A GIRL! and trailing spirals of pink ribbon. A man gripped the wicker handle of a wheeled and skirted bassinet as if he planned to roll it onto the plane, and a woman stood ready with a stroller so chrome-trimmed and bristling with levers that it seemed capable of entering the Indy 500. At least half a dozen people held video cameras, and many more had regular cameras slung around their necks. A woman spoke into a tape recorder in an urgent, secretive way. The man next to her clasped an infant's velour-upholstered car seat close to his chest.

MOM, the button on the woman's shoulder read--one of those man's read DAD. A nice-looking couple, not as young as you might expect--the woman in wide black pants and an arty black-and-white top of a geometric design, her short hair streaked with gray; the man a big, beaming, jovial type with a stubbly blond buzz cut, his bald knees poking bashfully from voluminous khaki Bermudas.

And not only were there MOM and DAD; there were GRANDMA and GRANDPA, twice over--two complete sets. One grandma was a rumpled, comfortable woman in a denim sundress and bandanna-print baseball cap; the other was thin and gilded and expertly made up, wearing an ecru linen pantsuit and dyed-to-match pumps. The grandpas were dyed to match as well--the rumpled woman's husband equally rumpled, his iron-gray curls overdue for a cutting, while the gilded woman's husband wore linen trousers and some sort of gauzy tropical shirt, and part of his bright yellow hair was possibly not his own.

It's true there were other people waiting, people clearly not included in the celebration. A weary-eyed woman in curlers; an older woman with a younger one who might have been her daughter; a father with two small children already dressed in pajamas. These outsiders stood around the edges, quiet and somehow dimmed, from time to time sneaking glances in the direction of MOM and DAD.

The plane was late. People grew restless. A child pointed out accusingly that the arrivals board still read ON TIME--a plain old lie. Several teenagers wandered off to the unlit waiting area just across the corridor. A little girl in pigtails fell asleep on a vinyl chair, the button on her green plaid blouse proclaiming COUSIN.

Then something changed. There wasn't any announcement--the PA system had been silent for some time--but people gradually stopped talking and pressed toward the jetway, craning their necks, standing on tiptoe. A woman in a uniform punched in a code and swung open the jetway door. A skycap arrived with a wheelchair. The teenagers reappeared. MOM and DAD, till now in the very center of the crowd, were nudged forward with encouraging pats, a path magically widening to let them approach the door.

First off was a very tall young man in jeans, wearing the confused look of someone who'd been flying too long. He spotted the mother and daughter and went over to them and bent to kiss the daughter, but only on the cheek because she was too busy peering past him, just briefly returning his hug while she kept her eyes on the new arrivals.

Two businessmen with briefcases, striding purposefully toward the terminal. A teenage boy with a backpack so huge that he resembled an ant with an oversized breadcrumb. Another businessman. Another teenage boy, this one claimed by the woman in curlers. A smiling, rosy-cheeked redhead instantly engulfed by the two children in pajamas.

Now a pause. A sort of gathering of focus.

A crisply dressed Asian woman stepped through the door with a baby. This baby was perhaps five or six months old--able to hold herself confidently upright. She had a cushiony face and a head of amazingly thick black hair, cut straight across her forehead and straight across the tops of her ears, and she wore a footed pink sleeper. "Ah!" everyone breathed--even the outsiders, even the mother and the grown daughter. (Although the daughter's young man still appeared confused.) The mother-to-be stretched out both arms, letting her tape recorder bounce at the end of its strap. But the Asian woman stopped short in an authoritative manner that warded off any approach. She drew herself up and said, "Donaldson?"

"Donaldson. That's us," the father-to-be said. His voice was shaking. He had somehow got rid of the car seat, passed it blindly to someone or other, but he stayed slightly to the rear of his wife and kept one hand on her back as if in need of support.

"Congratulations," the Asian woman said. "This is Jin-Ho." She transferred the baby to the mother's waiting arms, and then she unhitched a pink diaper bag from her shoulder and handed it to the father. The mother buried her face in the crook of the baby's neck. The baby stayed upright, gazing calmly out at the crowd. "Ah," people kept saying, and "Isn't she a cutie!" and "Did you ever see such a doll?"

Flashbulbs, insistent video cameras, everyone pressing too close. The father's eyes were wet. Lots of people's were; there were sniffing sounds all through the waiting area and noses being blown. And when the mother raised her face, finally, her cheeks were sheeted with tears. "Here," she told the father. "You hold her."

"Aw, no, I'm scared I might . . . You do it, honey. I'll watch."

The Asian woman started riffling through a sheaf of papers. People still disembarking had to step around her, step around the little family and the well-wishers and the tangle of baby equipment. Luckily, the flight hadn't been a full one. The passengers arrived in spurts: man with a cane, pause; retired couple, pause . . .

And then another Asian woman, younger than the first and plainer, with a tucked, apologetic way of looking about. She was lugging a bucket-shaped infant carrier by the handle, and you could tell that the baby inside must not weigh all that much. This baby, too, was a girl, if you could judge by the pink T-shirt, but she was smaller than the first one, sallow and pinched, with fragile wisps of black hair trailing down her forehead. Like the young woman transporting her, she showed a sort of anxious interest in the crowd. Her watchful black eyes moved too quickly from face to face.

The young woman said something that sounded like "Yaz-dun?"

"Yaz-dan," a woman called from the rear. It sounded like a correction. The crowd parted again, not certain which way to move but eager to be of help, and three people no one had noticed before approached in single file: a youngish couple, foreign-looking, olive-skinned and attractive, followed by a slim older woman with a chignon of sleek black hair knotted low on the nape of her neck. It must have been she who had called out their name, because now she called it again in the same clear, carrying voice. "Here we are. Yazdan." There was just the trace of an accent evident in the ruffled r's.

The young woman turned to face them, holding the carrier awkwardly in front of her. "Congratulations, this is Sooki," she said, but so softly and so breathlessly that people had to ask each other, "What?" "Who did she say?" "Sooki, I believe it was." "Sooki! Isn't that sweet!"

There was a problem unfastening the straps that held the baby in her carrier. The new parents had to do it because the Asian woman's hands were full, and the parents were flustered and unskilled--the mother laughing slightly and tossing back her explosive waterfall of hennaed curls, the father biting his lip and looking vexed with himself. He wore tiny, very clean rimless glasses that glittered as he angled first this way and then that, struggling with a plastic clasp. The grandmother, if that was who she was, made sympathetic tsk-tsking sounds.

But at last the baby was free. Such a little bit of a thing! The father plucked her out in a gingerly, arm's-length manner and handed her to the mother, who gathered her in and rocked her and pressed her cheek against the top of the baby's feathery black head. The baby quirked her eyebrows but offered no resistance. Onlookers were blowing their noses again, and the father had to take off his glasses and wipe the lenses, but the mother and the grandmother stayed dry-eyed, smiling and softly murmuring. They paid no attention to the crowd. When someone asked, "Is yours from Korea too?" neither woman answered, and it was the father, finally, who said, "Hmm? Oh. Yes, she is."

"Hear that, Bitsy and Brad? Here's another Korean baby!"

The first mother glanced around--she was allowing the two grandmas a closer inspection--and said, "Really?" Her husband echoed her: "Really!" He stepped over to the other parents and held out his hand. "Brad Donaldson. That's my wife, Bitsy, over there."

"How do you do," the second father said. "Sami Yazdan." He shook Brad's hand, but his lack of interest was almost comical; he couldn't keep his eyes off his baby. "Uh, my wife, Ziba," he added after a moment. "My mother, Maryam." He had a normal Baltimore accent, although he pronounced the two women's names as no American would have--Zee-bah and Mar-yam. His wife didn't even look up. She was cradling the baby and saying what sounded like "Soo-soo-soo." Brad Donaldson flapped a hand genially in her direction and returned to his own family.

By the time the transfers had been made official--both Asian women proving to be sticklers for detail--the Donaldson crowd had started to thin. Evidently some sort of gathering was planned for later, though, because people kept calling, "See you back at the house!" as they moved toward the terminal. And then the parents themselves were free to go, Bitsy leading the way while the woman with the stroller wheeled it just behind her like a lady-in-waiting. (Clearly nothing would persuade Bitsy to give up her hold on that baby.) Brad lumbered after her, followed by a few stragglers and, at the very tail end, the Yazdans. One of the Donaldson grandpas, the rumpled one, dropped back to ask the Yazdans, "So. Did you have a long wait for your baby? Lots of paperwork and cross-examinations?"

"Yes," Sami said, "a very long wait. A very long-drawn-out process." And he glanced toward his wife. "At times we thought it never would happen," he said.

The grandpa clucked and said, "Don't I know it! Lord, what Bitsy and Brad had to put themselves through!"

They passed to one side of Security, which was staffed by a lone employee sitting on a stool, and started down the escalator--all but the man with the bassinet. He had to take the elevator. The woman with the stroller, however, seemed undaunted. She tipped the front end of the stroller back smartly and stepped on without hesitation.

"Listen," Brad called up to the Yazdans from the lower level. "You-all feel like coming to our house? Joining the celebration?"

But Sami was absorbed in guiding his wife onto the escalator, and when he didn't answer, Brad flapped a hand again in that oh-well, affable way of his. "Maybe another time," he said to no one in particular. And he turned to catch up with the others.

The exit doors slid open and the Donaldsons streamed out. They headed toward the parking garage in twos and threes and fours, and shortly after that the Yazdans emerged to stand on the curb a moment, motionless, as if they needed time to adjust to the hot, humid, dimly lit, gasoline-smelling night.

Friday, August 15, 1997. The night the girls arrived.



2

Sometimes when Maryam Yazdan looked at her new little granddaughter she had an eerie, lightheaded feeling, as if she had stepped into some sort of alternate universe. Everything about the child was impossibly perfect. Her skin was a flawless ivory, and her hair was almost too soft to register on Maryam's fingertips. Her eyes were the shape of watermelon seeds, very black and cut very precisely into her small, solemn face. She weighed so little that Maryam often lifted her too high by mistake when she picked her up. And her hands! Tiny hands, with curling fingers. The wrinkles on her knuckles were halvah-colored (so amusing, that a baby had wrinkles!), and her nails were no bigger than dots.

Susan, they called her. They chose a name that resembled the name she had come with, Sooki, and also it was a comfortable sound for Iranians to pronounce.

"Su-san!" Maryam would sing when she went in to get her from her nap. "Su-Su-Su!" Susan would gaze out from behind the bars of her crib, sitting beautifully erect with one hand cupping each knee in a poised and self-possessed manner.

Maryam took care of her Tuesdays and Thursdays--the days her daughter-in-law worked and Maryam did not. She arrived at the house around eight-thirty, slightly later if the traffic was bad. (Sami and Ziba lived out in Hunt Valley, as much as a half-hour drive from the city during rush hour.) By that time Susan would be having breakfast in her high chair. She would light up and make a welcoming sound when Maryam walked into the kitchen. "Ah!" was what she most often said--nothing to do with "Mari-june," which was what they had decided she should call Maryam. "Ah!" she would say, and she would give her distinctive smile, with her lips pursed together demurely, and tilt her cheek for a kiss.

Well, not in the first few weeks, of course. Oh, those first weeks had been agony, the two parents trying their best, shrilling "Susie-june!" and shaking toys in her face and waltzing her about in their arms. All she did was stare at them, or--worse yet--stare away from them, twisting to get free, fixing her eyes stubbornly anywhere else. She wouldn't take more than a sip or two from her bottle, and when she woke crying in the night, as she did every few hours, her parents' attempts to comfort her only made her cry harder.


From the Hardcover edition.

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