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Pickle Me This

August 19, 2007

Digging to America by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler’s novel Digging to America begins with two American families waiting at the airport for their adopted baby daughters to arrive from Korea. Brad and Bitsy, the Donaldson’s, have come with an entourage of extended family, a shock of camera flashes, balloons, excitement and an inevitable camcorder. The Iranian-American Yasdans, on the other hand, are more subdued: Sami, Ziba, and Sami’s mother Maryam are waiting patiently off to the side. “The girls” arrive, and the two families become acquainted, and entangled throughout the following years due to this unique history they now have in common.

This is how the story begins, but not what this story is about. Which is where the mastery creeps in, I suppose, in good writing. The international adoption is a given, the relationship between two very different families becomes a fact, and the story is about ordinary life with all that in the background. The story is not the situation, but rather how people react and interact accordingly. Tyler explores family friendships, and how different family values seem to so often constitute a threat. How, in a country as new as America and with unconventions such as international adoption and immigration, does a family manage to find or create traditions which suit them? What do blood ties really mean? this explored through scenes of exasperating family gatherings, the families’ fierce love for their daughters, or Bitsy’s father who, before losing his wife to cancer, is momentarily surprised to realize that he could not give her his bone marrow. That they’d shared no blood meant less than nothing to him.

This book was a pleasure for a summer’s day, actually the span within which I read it. Well written, joyfully storied, alternatively happy and sad, though it wasn’t perfect. What are the odds of ever making characters called “Brad and Bitsy” three-dimensional? And yet Tyler goes some lengths towards doing this, with multiple points of view which make clear the distance between a person’s actual self and how they are perceived from the outside. Each of Tyler’s characters come with foibles which render them heartbreakingly real, and thus how they react in their lives reads as true.

One thought on “Digging to America by Anne Tyler”

  1. Beth says:

    I loved this book – glad you enjoyed it too.

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