Digging to America by Anne Tyler tells the story of two vastly different families whose lives are forever intertwined after they adopt two infant daughters from Korea. From their first chance meeting at the airport, the lives of the Iranian-American Sami and Ziba Yazman and the Caucasian upper class American Brad and Bitsy Donaldson are never quite the same. Through events such as raking leaves parties, arrival parties, and other various social meetings, the Yazman and the Donaldson families find themselves clashing over their different cultures and traditions, and both parties question that it means to be a parent, a family, and a traditional American.
Even though Digging To America was a slow read for me, I loved this book. There were many ideas that spoke to me and interested me both as a reader but also as someone with a background in both psychology and women’s studies. I was really captivated by her attempt to define and distinguish the concept of Americanization. By definition, for those who may not be aware, Americanization is the process of an immigrant being assimilated into American society by learning to share perceived American values, beliefs, and customs. It is a process that typically involves the immigrant learning English and adjusting to American culture and customs while attempting to keep their own grasp on their own ideas of culture and food from their homeland. Now as you can imagine this is not only a hard idea to conceptualize but also often a hard idea to visualize through the pages of a work of fiction. Yet, through her examples of Yazman’s and the Donaldson’s clashing over ideas of how to raise an adopted child; the role of women in society; and the construction of a family, Anne Tyler breaks down the difficulties of how one may define themselves as American especially in an ever changing society.
Another component that allows the reader to visualize and understand the concept of Americanization is the characterization with the story. Honestly, characterization was a key component which makes this story work so well. The characters within Digging to America were each so different and complex that it made it easy for me to both sympathize with them even when I disagreed with what they were trying to say. Even though both Sami and Ziba were born in America, they were often still treated as Iranian immigrants because of their families and/or their appearances. In comparison, the Donaldson’s were both born in America and were both born into relatively stable families of both wealth and status. This difference alone was a very strong basis for the way in which the two families attempted to approach the raising of their Korean daughters as well as the way that they approached their own lives and their families. The differences allowed between the characters allowed me to understand their reasoning for their actions even if I didn’t always agree with it. They also set up the conflicts which helped move the story and their interactions along.
Overall, it was refreshing to read something that analyzes the concept of Americanization through the simple examination of day to day lives of people, their relationships, and their experiences. However, like I mentioned before it did take me sometime to get through Digging To America by Anne Tyler due to it’s slow pace. But then again, there is nothing wrong with taking your time with a book right? Especially if you enjoy it in the end like I did this one.
Disclosure: Purchased copy.