four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
23-July-Aug-2006
By: 
Anne Tyler
user_rating: 
0

A-DiggingToAmericaIn 1997, two families meet by chance at the Baltimore airport when they pick up their adopted Korean babies. The families—Bitsy and Brad Donaldson and Ziba and Sami Yazdan and Sami’s mother, Maryam—couldn’t differ more: the former are as American as apple pie, though with a politically correct agenda; the latter are assimilated Iranian-Americans striving to create an "American" daughter. Over the next six years, the families’ lives become intertwined as they become friends through their annual Arrival Day parties for their daughters. Only Maryam maintains her "outsider" status. But when she falls for someone close to home, she starts to question all the cultural traditions she has valued until now.
Knopf. 277 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0307263940

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"At a time when the US is convulsed with questions about immigrant rights and relations with Iran, this book takes on heightened political relevance. … The relationship between overbearing, but well-meaning, politically correct Bitsy Dickinson-Donaldson and glamorous but insecure Ziba yields a rich crop of Tyler’s trademark sly social commentary." Heller McAlpin

Hartford Courant 4 of 5 Stars
"Digging to America may be [Tyler’s] most difficult project yet. … [It] acknowledges how complicated, how tentative this formula can be and reminds us, in the quietest way, how families can provide a balm." John Freeman

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Don’t expect simple old world/new world dichotomies: Ziba Yazdan goes back to work soon after Susan’s arrival, while Bitsy Donaldson is a doctrinaire stay-at-home mom; if Bitsy goes for the hand-loomed ‘ethnic’ look, Ziba’s ‘long-range goal was to outfit the house entirely in American Colonial.’" Diana Postlethwaite

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4 of 5 Stars
"[The novel] makes passing references to the Shah of Iran and the suspicion of anyone Middle Eastern after 9/11 but, first and foremost, Tyler’s novel is the story of two families." Barbara Vancheri

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"[P]erhaps this is Ms. Tyler’s most valuable point: These people are not anguished exceptions, placed in front of us to reveal shocking truths, but ordinary Americans, leading quietly moving, familiar lives." Tara Gallagher

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[Tyler’s] 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. … [Her] subtle wit gets these ironies just right: The Iranian immigrants must wrestle with when to assimilate, when to resist, while their white-bread friends carry on about how much they love ethnicity." Ron Charles

Seattle Times 3 of 5 Stars
"By the time the last ‘Arrival Party’ rolls around, Tyler seems tired of the business herself and her writing becomes surprisingly perfunctory." Michael Upchurch

Critical Summary

In some ways, Anne Tyler’s seventeenth novel departs from her trademark domestic dramas (The Amateur Marriage, 3.5 of 5 Stars May/June 2004). Like much of her previous work, Digging to America takes place in Baltimore, masterfully dissects "the fine threads of human relationships" (Wall Street Journal), and casts a sharp eye on the family unit. This time, culture clash, assimilation, and the meaning of "American" surface. Critics, who cite this as one of Tyler’s best (albeit most challenging) novels, praise its unpredictable culture contrasts (Tyler’s late husband was Iranian-American), view of life from outsiders’ perspectives, and wonderful creations—from supermom Bitsy to Maryam, who struggles with her cultural identity. "Once again," notes the Christian Science Monitor, "this wise and warm-hearted author delves beneath the surface of ordinary Americans to find that there are no ordinary Americans."