Digging to America by Anne Tyler

Title: Digging to America
Author: Anne Tyler
Year Published: May 2006
Genre: Fiction
My Rating: 3 on 5

I have to admit I had never heard of this book until I read about it on JoV’s blog. JoV hosted a giveaway on her blog and I was one of the lucky winners. I chose the popular Random Acts of Heroic Love, but she was generous enough to send me a copy of Digging to America along with my chosen book. If not for JoV, I would have never discovered this wonderful book.

This book is about two Korean babies who are adopted by two different families based in America. While Jin-Ho is adopted by an American family, Susan is adopted by an Iranian family based in America. These two families come together on the night the babies arrive from Korea and are bonded by the one common thing – adoption of a Korean baby. The two families gradually discover the vast gap in their culture and opinions. They meet at every occasion and religiously celebrate the “Arrival Day” – the day the babies arrived home.

Anne Tyler’s Digging to America has an intriguing title. I wondered why it was named this way and didn’t find out the reason until almost half way into the book. Jin-Ho is digging a hole in the backyard one day and wonders just like how she is digging a hole to China, is there a girl in China who is digging a hole to America. And that’s the trigger for the title – and also that all the characters in the book are trying to find a place for themselves in the land of opportunities.

We see several characters – the girls themselves, their parents, maternal and paternal grandparents, relatives and so on. The best part of the book is the characterization. I am guessing Tyler reads psychology in her spare time because she understands human mind so well. Each and every character in this book is so real and so beautifully created, that it reminds me of Somerset Maugham. I love his characterization and Tyler comes really close. Of all the intriguing characters, I find Maryam, Susan’s paternal grandmother, the most interesting.

The adopted girls, Susan and Jin-Ho, could have been built better. The girls are shown to be different but never explored further. We just know Jin-Ho to be clumsy and pretty whereas Susan is plain yet graceful. It would be interesting to know what the girls felt about their adoption. There is a fleeting mention of the girls not caring for the Arrival Day Party and the video, but I was hoping to read more. I expected a bit more elaboration when Jin-Ho gets an adopted sister – wasn’t there sibling rivalry at all? Also, the incident where Sami and Brat have a fight – this part appears childish and it doesn’t affect the relationships of the character which I found hard to believe.

I like the fact that the third person POV changes after every few chapters. The initial few are in Maryam’s POV and it shifts to Ziba, Sami, Bitsy and even Jin-Ho. It needs a bit of context switching and it takes a while to get used to.

I need to work with American people on a daily basis and the cultural differences crop up all the time – sometimes totally unexpected. What we call politeness is seen as lack of confidence by the American team. When they try to be frank and open, we see it as rudeness. We constantly check our words hoping not to toe the line and hurt anybody. I could relate so well to the cultural clashes that the characters in this book experience. A very interesting and thought provoking book that one must read.


2 Responses to “Digging to America by Anne Tyler”

  1. JoV Says:

    Doesn’t it deserves a 5 from you? One of the enthusiastic posts I read from you. I am glad you like it.

    I experienced the same thing too. Being polite and humble is seen as weakness in the west. I have ceased to be so now, part of the adaptability one has to adopt to get by esp at work. Sad but true.

    • anaamica Says:

      I did pause and think whether to give it 3 or 4. I decided on rating it 3 because as I noted down, the book missed a few things which I expected. That doesn’t make the book any less enjoyable, but I felt the book could have been better.

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