Digging to America

( 38 )

Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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

From Barnes & Noble
After 30 years in the United States, independent-minded Maryam Yazdan still maintains a quiet sense of otherness. After a chance encounter at the Baltimore airport, she and her family befriend the Donaldsons, and even the guarded Maryam is drawn in by their hospitality. Her attitude becomes more conflicted, though, when she is courted by an older member of the Donaldson clan. Anne Tyler's novel offers gently nuanced insights about identity, privacy, and cultural differences.
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
A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSE
NATIONAL BESTSELLER
A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2006

“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: 9780345492340
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/28/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 185,569
  • Lexile: 840L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.17 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. This is her 17th novel. Her 11th, Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. A member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, she lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

Biography

Anne Tyler has had a very active imagination all her life. When she was a young girl, she would spend an hour or two after being put to bed every night fantasizing that she was a doctor. She imagined conversations with patients, and pictured their lives as she did so, considering both their illnesses and the intricacies of their backgrounds. She constructed little mental plays around these characters that she would whisper to herself in the dark -- much to the chagrin of her brother, with whom she shared a room. "[H]e used to call out to our parents, ‘Anne's whispering again!'" she once told Barnes & Noble.com. As much as she may have vexed her brother, she also believes that these fantasies helped her to develop into the beloved, award-winning novelist she is today.

Tyler's work is characterized by a meticulous attention to detail, a genuine love of her characters, and a quirky sense of humor. Her public persona is characterized by its own quirks, as well. She refuses to grant face-to-face interviews. She has never publicly read from any of her books. She does not do book signings or tours. All of this has lent a certain mystique to her novels, although Tyler has said that her reluctance to become a public figure status is actually the result of simple shyness, not to mention her desire for her writing to speak for itself. Fortunately, Anne Tyler's work speaks with a clear, fully-realized voice that does not require unnecessary elucidation by the writer.

Tyler published her first novel If Morning Ever Comes in 1964, and that singular voice was already in place. This astute debut that tracks the self-realization of a young man named Ben Joe Hawkins displayed Tyler's characteristic wit and gentle eccentricity right off the bat. Harper's declared the novel "a triumph," and Tyler was on her way to creating an impressive catalog of novels chronicling the every day hopes, fears, dreams, failures, and victories of small-town Americans. Having come of age, herself, in rural North Carolina, Tyler had particular insight into the lives of her characters. Each novel was a little shimmering gem, winning her a devoted following and public accolades that more than compensated for her refusal to appear in public. Her novel Earthly Possessions, the story of a housewife who is taken hostage by a young man during a bank robbery, was released the same year she won an award for "literary excellence and promise of important work to come" from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. The book also went on to become a television movie starring Susan Sarandon and Stephen Dorff in 1999.

However, the most well-known adaptation of one of Tyler's novels arrived more than a decade earlier when The Accidental Tourist was made into an Academy Award winning film starring Geena Davis and William Hurt. Consequently, The Accidental Tourist is viewed by some as Tyler's signature novel, covering many of the writer's favorite themes: the push and pull of marriage, the appearance of a romantic eccentric, personal tragedy, and the quest to escape from the drudgery of routine. The Accidental Tourist won the National Book Critics Circle Award and hit number one on The New York Times Bestseller list.

Three years later, Tyler received the Pulitzer Prize for Breathing Lessons, which further explored themes of marriage and self-examination. Despite having won the prestigious Pulitzer, Tyler still refused to allow herself to be drawn into the spotlight. Quietly, contemplatively, she chose to continue publishing a sequence of uniformly fine novels, including Saint Maybe, Ladder of Years, and The Amateur Marriage.

Anne Tyler's novel Digging to America reexamines many of her chief obsessions, while also possibly drawing upon a personal triumph -- her marriage to Iranian psychiatrist and novelist Taghi Mohammad Modarressi -- and the tragedy of his death in 1997. Digging to America follows the relationship between two families, the Iranian Yazdans and the all-American Donaldsons, as they become closer and closer and affect each other deeper and deeper over a succession of years. Digging to America is arguably Tyler's deepest and most profound work to date. It also delivers more of her peculiar brand of humor, which will surely please her longtime fans, thrilled that she continues spinning tales with the trademark attention to character that has distinguished her stories ever since she was a little girl, whispering to herself in the dark. Tyler may have decided to remain in the dark and out of the public eye, but the stories she has to tell have shed more than their share of light on the lives of her readers.

Good To Know

Tyler first began writing stories at the innocent age of seven. At the time, most of her yarns involved, as she has said, "lucky, lucky girls who got to go west in covered wagons."

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    1. Hometown:
      Baltimore, Maryland
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 25, 1941
    2. Place of Birth:
      Minneapolis, Minnesota
    1. Education:
      B.A., Duke University, 1961

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.

Excerpted from Digging to America by Anne Tyler Copyright © 2006 by Anne Tyler. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions from the Publisher
1. In calling their baby Susan, the Yazdans "chose a name that resembled the name she had come with, Sooki, and also it was a comfortable sound for Iranians to pronounce" [p. 10]. The Donaldsons keep their baby’s Korean name, Jin-Ho. What is the significance of these choices, both within the context of the novel and in the context of adoption in general? Is it important for an adoptive family to give children from another country or ethnic group a sense of their heritage? What insights does Ziba and Bitsy’s fractious disagreement about "Americanization" [p. 46] offer into this question?

2. Right from the start, Maryam feels a deep connection with Susan -- "something around the eyes, some way of looking at things, some onlooker’s look: that was what they shared. Neither one of them quite belonged" [p. 13]. Does Maryam’s pleasure in bonding with Susan hint at needs or emotions that she is unable or unwilling to acknowledge? To what extent does her insistence that she is "Still and forever a guest, on her very best behavior" [p. 15] serve as a convenient excuse for remaining aloof from other people?

3. What aspects of her heritage does Maryam value most and why? Why is she so unsettled by her visit to Iran and her reactions to Iranians in the country [p. 39]? Why is she annoyed when her cousin’s American husband sprinkles bits of Farsi into his conversation [p. 147]? Why has she raised Sami to be "more American than the Americans" [p. 83], even as she clings to her otherness?

4. Does Maryam’s behavior show that she feels not only estranged from American society but also in some way superior to it? What specific incidents and conversations bring this aspect of her personality to light?

5. In addition to being a wonderfully amusing vignette, what is the import of Sami’s "performance piece" [pp. 80-81]? Why does Tyler use humor and mockery to convey a serious point about Americans and how they appear to immigrants? Does the fact that Sami is American-born and-raised make his criticisms more credible (and perhaps more acceptable) than they would be if a newcomer to the country expressed them?

6. How does Maryam differ from Ziba’s parents and her cousin Farah, the other Iranian immigrants depicted in the novel? What factors, both practical and psychological, influence the characters’ desire and ability to make a place for themselves in American society? What do these varying portraits show about the process of assimilation? Are there inherent contradictions between accepting the culture of an adopted homeland and retaining one’s ethnic identity?

7. Compare and contrast Ziba and Bitsy. How do they differ as women? As mothers? Which woman is more sympathetically drawn? How does Tyler use both negative and positive attributes to bring each woman to life? How do the women’s individual approaches to motherhood influence the way they regard and evaluate each other? Is Ziba overly susceptible to Bitsy’s criticism and suggestions? Does her friendship with Ziba, as well as her frequent encounters with Maryam, affect Bitsy’s beliefs or behavior? Does the relationship between Ziba and Bitsy change over the course of the book?

8. How do the portraits of Sami and Brad compare to those of their wives? Are their personalities as richly described? Do they play parallel roles within their families? Is their behavior in relation to their children and wives a reflection of their personalities and the nature of their marriages, or do cultural patterns, expectations, and values also play a part?

9. Does the romance between Dave and Maryam unfold in a realistic way? In addition to Dave’s moving reaction to Connie death, what other events or conversations show that he contains a depth and a self-awareness that Maryam and the others seem oblivious to?

10. What does Maryam’s description of her courtship and marriage [pp. 155-160] add to our image of her? Why has she chosen to keep the story to herself, not even sharing it with Sami? 11. Discuss Maryam’s reaction to Dave’s proposal [pp. 211-214]. What does her conversation with Sami and Ziba reveal about her difficulties in reconciling her prejudices about Americans and her affection for Dave? In what ways do her protests also bring to light her ambivalent feelings about who she is and what she is willing to give up at this stage of her life? Why do you think Maryam makes the decision she does at the end of the book?

12. To what extent does Digging to America echo the themes and concerns Tyler explored in her previous novels? Do Tyler’s views on marriage and family here differ in significant ways from those presented in her earlier works? How does Digging to America compare to other books you have read that portray women trying to establish an identity apart from what is expected--or demanded--of them?

About this Book
Maryam Yazdan has accompanied her son, Sami, and daughter-in-law, Ziba, to the Baltimore airport to welcome the newest member of their family, a baby girl from Korea. Bitsy and Brad Donaldson, at the airport with their large, boisterous clan to pick up their own adopted infant, invite the Yazdans back to their home to celebrate. The "arrival day" party becomes an annual affair, one of many get-togethers the families share over the years. Maryam, an Iranian who came to America as a young bride more than thirty years earlier but still thinks of herself as an outsider, participates in these events with a mixture of pleasure, curiosity, and disdain. Her American-born son and his wife, who quickly embraced American culture when she came from Iran as a teenager, move more easily in the Donaldsons’ world. Tyler captures this world perfectly, conveying in wry and telling detail the combination of unstinting devotion, obsession, and competitiveness Sami and Ziba and Bitsy and Brad bring to their roles as modern American parents.

Maryam, who has come regard the Donaldsons with restrained but genuine affection, is taken aback when Bitsy’s widowed father, Dave, begins to court her. As their intimacy grows, Maryam finds herself caught between her attraction to Dave’s open, spirited charms and her desire to hold fast to the separateness that has defined her life in America. Their story, like the stories of their children and grandchildren, becomes in Tyler’s deft hands a wonderful exploration of the meaning of identity, home, and family.

Suggested Reading
Monica Ali, Brick Lane; Julia Alvarez, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents; Gelareh Asayesh, Saffron Sky; Andre Dubus III, House of Sand and Fog; Firoozeh Dumas, Funny in Farsi; Gish Jen, The Love Wife; Chang-rae Lee, Native Speaker; Bharati Mukherjee, Jasmine; Nahid Rachlin, Foreigner; Zadie Smith, White Teeth

About the Author
Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1941 and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is the author of seventeen novels, including Breathing Lessons, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she lives in Baltimore, Maryland.
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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 38 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Powerful contemporary tale

    On August 15, 1997 at the Baltimore airport, two couples each wait for the arrival of their newly adopted Korean infants. Bitsy and Brad Dickinson-Donaldson are openly ecstatic over their tiny Jin-Ho while a more subdued but just as elated Sami and Ziba Yazdan are exhilarated over their Sookie, who they rename Susan. In the waiting room, Bitsy and Brad host a baby shower gala with their family horde while the Yazdans only have his Iranian mother Maryam with them. Still this euphoric connection leads to a strong friendship between Bitsy and Brad Donaldson with.----- The extroverted Bitsy establishes an annual gala to celebrate Arrival Day. She and Ziba become especially close, but she fails in her efforts to reach out to Maryam, who detests the ugly Americans though she has been here for decades arriving as a teenage bride immigrant, whose son was born here and husband died here. She still feels like an outsider in the United States, but unwelcome in Iran. That suddenly changes when Bitsy¿s widower father Dave makes clear his intentions towards her that panic and exhilarate Maryam.----- DIGGING TO AMERICA is a great character study that digs deep into the adopting parents yet they, Dave and their respective children are secondary protagonists to the tale¿s prime player, Maryam. Readers will appreciate the support cast that includes the brashness of Bitsy the tenderness of Brad towards his two women the friendliness of Dave somewhat tamped by his grief for his wife and his need for Maryam Sami's aloofness toward Iran and America that frustrates his mom Ziba's exuberance towards the American dream for her baby. However, Maryam remains the focus as no one before Dave has gotten inside her perimeter, but he wonders if she will let him remain there. Anne Tyler provides a powerful contemporary tale that looks deep into the Americanization of Maryam that is worth reading.------ Harriet Klausner

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2009

    Wonderful read.

    Digging to America was not what I invisioned from the title. It was a wonderful book about 2 families with different styles and backgrounds all wanting to be part of the American dream.

    The book features one traditional American (European background) family and a new American family (Mid-Eastern background). We learn about the fears, failures and joys of many of the characters. In the 40's it could have been about an Irish family instead of Middle Eastern.. the struggles are the same. How to merge the past, present and future together.

    What made this story even more intersting and complicated is that the story uses the adoption of two babies from the Korea as the focal point that creates the bond between all of the characters.

    If you only read one part of the book... read the one about getting rid of the pacifier. It was laugh out loud funny and one that could touch every mother.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2007

    love it!

    The book digging to America interested me in a lot ways. exspecially because the girl was adopted and storys like this always touch my heart in some way or another!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2007

    A reviewer

    This book, thru all of its writing, proves one thing over all. That is that people from one culture never, ever, completely trust those from another culture no matter how close they come to them and no matter how assimilated they become in the other's nation. This is too bad because all people should be able to get along because of their brain size, however, the only ones who seem to assimilate correctly and make a good life for themselves are animals (with small brains), and that is bad if we people are supposedly so much more 'gifted' than they are.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2011

    Good Book to read

    Digging to America is a hard book to put down. Having Iranian friends, I enjoyed reading about the food and culture. This book made you stop and think about families who adopt Asian children. Very thought provoking. My only question would be to Ms. Tyler is "Would an Iranian family adopt an Asian child"? But it was interesting to read about how the American family raised their adopted Asian daughter and the Iranian family raised their adopted daughter. I loved all the characters, especially Maryam. She reminded me so much of the Iranian women I met through my friend. Independent and very intelligent. I can just picture her, dark hair and eyes and very beautiful. Anne Tyler was not as kind to the American women. She made them sound very unattractive with their baggy clothes. Enjoyed the book and would highly recommend.

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  • Posted March 12, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Anne Tyler created a super story

    I thought that Anne Tyler created a super story in "Digging to America" The book portrayed some of the hidden snares that are involved with the book's doptive families as they go about adopting their Korean daughters The story takes place in Baltimore, with two families from different cultures; a suburban Caucasian family and a Iranian family. These two families become the focus of the book since both have adopted a daughter from Korea. It's an interesting story and there lots of humorous discussions. Highly recommend.

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  • Posted February 7, 2011

    A crisp and thought-provoking read.

    I picked this book up at a used book store after I left my vacation reading on the plane. An uninformed, but fortuitous, choice, having never before read Anne Tyler. The author's decade plus journey through the fictional lives of the parents and extended families and their two adopted Korean babies moves along briskly even though it makes you think the whole way. The views of the Iranian immigrant mother of one of the babies are especially thought-provoking.

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  • Posted July 19, 2009

    Never Fails

    Anne Tyler never fails to write an interesting story with quirky characters. I have enjoyed every single thing she has written, and would recommend all her books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2009

    disappointed in this author

    As I have read all of Anne Tyler's previous books I was disappointed in this one and definitely wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

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  • Posted May 30, 2009

    Enjoyed it!

    Good read - lovely and thoughtful insight into another culture.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2008

    Really disliked the book

    The story was very non eventful.A whole lot of words about nothing! Couldn't wait to finish it ,not because I was anxious to read what happened, because nothing really ever happens in the story. It just went on and on about nothing. Would not recommend.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2008

    Great Book, Digging to America

    I just finished reading Digging to Americaa, I really enjoyed it. I love her books and would recommend it to anyone. Easy to read. Eileen

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2007

    A reviewer

    I couldn't muster enough faith in the story to prod any longer than page 41. I found it difficult to relate to, sympathize with, or even respect the characters. They were intolerable, existing only to drive the plot. The book professes to extol the principles of cultural tolerance and individual sensitivity, but it fails in this as it attempts to bridge ethnic, gender, racial, economic, generational, and, especially, the individual divide. The characters are pigeonholed in stereotyped behavior, manner, and thought. A stilted performance of a highly advertised and acclaimed book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2006

    wonderful Book!!!

    Anne Tyler is an incredible novelist. I've read a few of her other books, but I think I enjoyed this one the most. She never disappoints me, and I'm looking forward to reading ALL her books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2006

    Anne Tyler is wonderful

    I'm a big Anne Tyler fan. My absolute all-time favorite book is Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. I enjoyed this book a great deal. My best friend's father is Iranian, so I could relate to some of the cultural references in this book, but my favorite parts had to do with the feelings of 'otherness' that so many of the characters felt. I think most of us feel that 'otherness' in some way, that there's always a part of us that doesn't really fit in.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2006

    A joy to read.

    I just turned the last page of this book. I truly enjoyed it. I would blissfully carry on with this book and characters for years to come and never look for another book . ( outside of the Bible of course ) I loved Maryam, Bitsi, Dave the extended cousins and aunts. Anne Tyler is my favorite author she always takes time letting the reader get to know the personalities and takes us through the day to day life that is so ordinary but so interesting none the less. I wish it would have been longer I was not ready to put this one down . A familiar feeling after one of her books I always hope for a sequel. I hope her next book isn't so long in coming.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2006

    Timely, Topical, and Touching

    With all the talk about immigration and foreign adoption, two topics that always generate passionate opinions, Digging to America puts faces (albeit fictional) and hearts to the issues. The ways in which the families assimilate their daughters into American lives while trying to preserve their original heritage contrasts with Maryam's struggle to maintain her 'otherness' while being a part of an assimilated family. Tyler shows the struggles on all sides without being pedantic. Her characters show a lot of heart throughout their process, one reason I enjoy her work so much. Also, the generational relationships and their takes on embracing their Americanism were quite interesting. I hated for it to end.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2006

    Better and Better

    Many novelists write their finest first and the subsequent books are always second rate. Not only has Anne Tyler surpassed her earlier books, she has written something in entirely different way than her other novels. The characters are endearing, true, full of life's nuances. Enthralling. enchanting, funny and so relevant for the times we are in. Best novel so far.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2006

    Who are these characters

    I've read most of Anne Taylor's other works and have either loved or at least very much liked them. Digging to America however will not be in either of those categories. I felt like I didn't really get to know any of the many (too many), characters in this book. Yes, there were several flashbacks as to what they went through in prior years, but not enough so I would feel any sort of attachment toward or care about any of them. Also, there was not much insight as to why certain characters would feel the way they do toward each other or why they act the way they do. Sorry, just not my idea of a good book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2006

    Clashing Symbols Story

    Tyler's nearly perfect and always poignant story writing is especially good, here, and especially needed, now. Her timely and vital observations about clashing cultures and social classes provide fresh perspectives and old struggles and give readers the opportunity to correct misconceptions while curling up with a good book.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 38 Customer Reviews

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