Author: Anne Tyler
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release date: 2006
Two families, who would otherwise never come together, meet by chance at the Baltimore airport, each anticipating the arrival of an adopted infant daughter from Korea. Brad and Bitsy Donaldson, all-American suburbanites, and their gift-laden clan resemble a gigantic baby shower with their flotilla of silvery balloons and pink ribbons. Iranian-born matriarch Maryam Yazdan stands unobtrusively in the back of the waiting area with her fully assimilated son, Sami, and his attractive Iranian American wife, Ziba. When Bitsy invites the Yazdan to an “arrival party” at the Donaldson home, an improbable friendship begins, and the occasion evolves into an annual tradition. Over the years, as the parents, children, and grandparents become more deeply entwined, cultures clash, values are challenged, and the American way is seen from the beguiling perspectives of both those who are born here and those who are struggling to fit in.
It all begins at the airport. Two families are waiting for the same life-changing arrival: a baby on its way from Korea. Right from the start, the author gives you a detailed account of how much those two families are different. The Donaldsons are the perfect American cliché, loud and conspicuous, surrounded by balloons and cameras. At the rear, silently waiting, are the three members of the Yazdan family: the soon-to-be parents and a grandmother. At first sight, they have nothing in common. Drawn together by fate, the story will reveal just how different they really are.
Every chapter is narrated by a different character. each time alternating between he Donaldson and the Yazdan. Maryam, the Iranian-born grandmother, acts as a pillar in the storyline, as we get to follow her more often than the others. I thought it gave the book a good rhythm and allowed the reader to get different sides to every event. Although the baby girls’ arrival is what brought them together, the story doesn’t focus on them, or adoption, but rather on everything around it and how the families are affected and changed by everything that happens. The question of fitting in a country, in a family, in a group, is at the heart of the story. By being confronted to each other, they all question and confront their own lives. As you scratch the surface, the first impressions fade, so do the cliché, and the lines between their differences blur. I enjoyed moving from one character to another. I don’t know how she does it but Anne Tyler has a thing to make to feel for all her characters.
This book is about values, belonging, and family relationships. I loved the parallels between the families and how the author used them to show that cultures may be different but feelings are the same.
I already mentioned I was nosy, and Anne Tyler’s writing is pure candy for me. It was like creeping to a neighbor’s window and sit there with a bowl of popcorn. I love daily scenes filled with people, misunderstandings, food and unsaid things, because that’s where life hides. I’m a sucker for books digging into the essence of all relationships, stories which writes them as they are: raw, full of often contradictory feelings, and at the heart of the sense of belonging. That’s why I highly recommend Digging to America.
(I thought adding a couple of quotes from the book could give you a hint at what to expect from the writing so I’ll try to add a couple at the end of every review.)
“Like most life-altering moment, it was disappointingly lacking of drama.”
“Wasn’t the real culture clash the one between the two sexes?”