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4 comments - Last on 12/09/2008

December- Digging To America

December 03, 2008 By Anne Tyler

The author of this month's book selection, Digging to America is Anne Tyler, author of 18 novels,a screenplay, two children's books and a Contributor of short stories, poetry, and articles to various periodicals. An author for more than four decades, Tyler has won numerous awards including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1989, for her novelBreathing Lessons. As evidenced in Digging to America, Tyler "uses the family unit as a vehicle for portraying "how people manage to endure together--how they grate against each other, adjust, intrude and protect themselves from intrusions, give up, and start all over again in the morning"(Brook, Dictionary of Literary Biography). Digging to America is Tyler's first novel to feature foreign born characters. Her ability to accurately portray the Iranian immigrant experience in this novel can be attributable to the fact that herlate husband, Taghi Modarressi, was an Iranian.

December- Digging To America

Digging for America is a story about belonging and what it means to be American.The Donaldson's, Bitsy and Brad, and the Yazdans, Sami, Ziba, and Sami's Iranian born mother, Maryam meet when the two families are at the Baltimore airport awaiting the arrival of their adopted Korean daughters. The two families are a study in contrasts. The Donaldsons are loud and boisterous, the stereotypical American family awaiting the arrival of their daughter, Jin-Ho, with an extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Until their daughter, Sooki, or Susan as they will call her comes off the plane, no one is even aware that the three members of the Yazdan family are also there quiety awaiting their daughter's arrival.

After becoming acquainted at the airport Bitsy invites the Yazdans to their home for an Arrival Party to celebrate the day the girl's arrived in the U.S.  The Arrival Party becomes an annual tradition which serves to mark the passage of time in the story. As the families get to know each other there are the inevitable clashes over their different cultures and values, including Bitsy's continual advice and criticism of Ziba's parenting style. However, as time passes and the families face some of life's challenges together, they begin to view and appreciate each other as individuals rather than just members of another culture. The families realize that they must accept the culture which they are trying to become a part of as well as being accepted by the people of that culture. The story is a good lesson for Americans today, both native born and immigrants, to accept one another for who they are and that although we may be members of different cultures we can live together as citizens of one country.

Anne Tyler Biography on Gale Literature Resource Center

New York Times Sunday Book Review

Interview with Anne Tyler discussing "Digging to America"

Book Discussion Guide from Iowa Center for the Book

Excerpt from "Digging to America"

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Discussion Question 1

 In calling their baby Susan, the Yazdans “chose a name that resembled the name she had come with, Sooki, and also it was a comfortable sound for Iranians to pronounce” [p. 10]. The Donaldsons keep their baby’s Korean name, Jin-Ho. What is the significance of these choices? Is it important for an adoptive family to give children from another country or ethnic group a sense of their heritage? What insights does Ziba and Bitsy’s fractious disagreement about “Americanization” [p. 46] offer into this question?

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I think it is important for an adopted child from another culture to be taught about their heritage but also made to feel part of her new home.  Although Bitsy made a concious effort to respect Jin-Ho's Korean heritage, Jin-Ho still had a strong desire to be just another American kid.  While it was important for her to honor her heritage she just wants to fit in with other kids.

Towards the end of the book Jin-Ho writes how she doesn't like Korean food, doesn't like Korean dress and doesn't like the Arrival Party. I think Bitsy and Brad could have been less anxious that Jin-Ho know her heritage. Pushing it on her seems to have backfired. It is important to know ones heritage but she was just a baby. I think gradually educating her about Korea would have been better. When she's over 18 she'll probably appreciate what her parents did for her.

Discussion Question 2

Right from the start, Maryam feels a deep connection with Susan.To what extent does her insistence that she is “still and forever a guest, on her very best behavior” (p. 15) serve as a convenient excuse for remaining aloof from other people?

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Trying to fit into a new group of people in any culture requires a person to stretch their self and take a risk. As long as Maryam considers herself an outsider and assumes she will never fit in, she gives herself an excuse for not trying to reach out and get to know "Americans".  It's certainly a lot easier not to try, but ultimately less rewarding.

Discussion Question 3

How does the shifting point-of-view allow the reader numerous opportunities to understand several of the central characters, adults and children?

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The chapters in the book are told from different characters point of view, Maryam being the most common narrator.  By letting different characters tell the story we get a glimpse into the thoughts and emotions of each character.  Even though they take part in the same situations they have different  takes on what is happening.  Also it allows us to see that Maryam being Iranian is not the only one who feels like an outsider.  Dave, Bitsy's widowed father, feels left out of life, after his wife dies.  He doesn't know how to redefine his role in the family.  Sami being an American of Iranian descent, sometimes feels outside of both the Donaldson family  ("The Americans") and his wife's relatives from Iran. We also know from Dave's narration that Bitsy has always struggled to  fit in which explains her need to view herself as doing things such as parenting in a better way than Ziba.