Digging Anne Tyler’s Digging To America

Does this ever happen to you? You reserve a whole big honkin’ list of books at the library, knowing it will be eons before the list rolls around you, and BAM! three or four of them arrive at the same time. It happens to me all the time.

The plus side to this situation is that I have gotten to read some fabulous books, albeit quickly. But the novels were so good that I would’ve read them quickly anyway because I was so invested in the story. Does this mean I let my children watch movies and play video games rather than spend quality time with them because I was immersed in a book? Pretty much. So I suppose it’s fortunate that I don’t read that many books that I fall in love with.

The first book I’ll discuss today is Anne Tyler‘s Digging to America. The book begins with two families waiting for an arriving flight – a flight that holds their infant adopted daughters who are arriving from Korea. One family is Iranian, the other American.  While fate has initially thrown these families together, their common bond sets the foundation of a genuine, if sometimes strained, friendship that lasts years. In an entirely organic and natural way, these characters question and explore the ideas of what it means to be “American;” how our cultures shape and limit us; and what friendship and love mean within these cultural overlaps.

In one scene, Maryam Yazdan speaks of how her granddaughter Susan told her that she wished they could celebrate Christmas the way other people do, and how it had broken Maryum’s heart. Dave, the grandfather of Jin-Ho, probes a little and finds that they’d had a tree, presents, caroling – the works:

He started laughing.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” he said. “You’re talking about every child in this country!”

She braked for a light and looked at him.

He said, “You don’t think that’s what all of them say? They say, ‘Other families celebrate better; on TV it seems much better; in my mind it was going to be better.’ That’s just Christmas! That’s how it works! They have these idealized expectations.”

She did seem to get his point, he saw. Something seemed to clear in her forehead.

“The kid’s one hundred percent American,” he said.

What I love about Anne Tyler’s books is how quiet and gentle they are. One article I read about her had her saying ‘there aren’t enough quiet, gentle, basically good people in a novel.’ Today’s publishing world fights against the quiet novel. I’ve known more than one writer with a fistful of novel rejections because “quiet novels” are allegedly too hard to market. Of course, in all likelihood, none of these writers writes as well as Anne Tyler. But it’s nice to see her succeed, and it was a real pleasure to live with these characters in Digging to America.

I’ll post next on the other wonderful book I just finished reading: Elizabeth George’s Careless in Red. Keep an eye out for it.

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