Digging To America

Anne Tyler

Friday August 15th, 1997. The night the girls arrived. Two tiny Korean babies are delivered to Baltimore to two families who have no more in common than this. First there are the Donaldsons, decent Brad and homespun, tenacious Bitsy (with her ‘more organic than thou’ airs, who believes fervently that life can always be improved), two full sets of grandparents and a host of big-boned, confident relatives, taking delivery with characteristic American razzmatazz.

Then there are the Yazdans, pretty, nervous Ziba (her family ‘only one generation removed from the bazaar’) and carefully assimilated Sami, with his elegant, elusive Iranian-born widowed mother Maryam, the grandmother-to-be, receiving their little bundle with wondering discretion. Every year, on the anniversary of ‘Arrival Day’ their two extended families celebrate together, with more and more elaborately competitive parties, as tiny, delicate Susan, wholesome, stocky Jin-ho and, later, her new little sister Xiu-Mei, take roots, become American. While Maryam, the optimistic pessimist, confident that if things go wrong – as well they may – she will manage as she has before, contrarily preserves her ‘outsider’ status, as if to prove that, despite her passport, she is only a guest in this bewildering country. Full of achingly hilarious moments and toe-curling misunderstandings, Digging to America is a novel with a deceptively small domestic canvas, and subtly large themes – it’s about belonging and otherness, about insiders and outsiders, pride and prejudice, young love and unexpected old love, families and the impossibility of ever getting it right, about striving for connection and goodness against all the odds. And the end catches you by the throat, ambushes your emotions when you least expect it, as only Tyler can.

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