Cover image for Digging to America
Title:
Digging to America
Author:
Tyler, Anne.
Personal Author:
Edition:
[Large print edition].
Publication Information:
New York : Random House Large Print, [2006]

©2006
Physical Description:
406 pages (Large print) ; 25 cm
Summary:
Two families awaiting the arrival of their adopted infant daughters from Korea meet at the airport. The families lives become interwined after the Donaldsons, a young American couple invite the Yazdan's, Maryam, her son and his Iranian American wife to an arrival party, which becomes an annual event. Maryam, who came to this country thirty-five years earlier, feels her values threatened when she is courted by a newly widowed Donaldson. A penetrating light on the American way as seen from two perspectives, those who are born here and those who are still struggling to fit in.
Language:
English
Program Information:
Reading Counts RC High School 5.5 21 Quiz: 57018.
Geographic Term:
ISBN:
9780739326428
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Anne Tyler's richest, most deeply searching novel-a story about what it is to be an American, and about Iranian-born Maryam Yazdan, who, after 35 years in this country, must finally come to terms with her "outsiderness."

Two families, who would otherwise never have come together, meet by chance at the Baltimore airport - the Donaldsons, a very American couple, and the Yazdans, Maryam's fully assimilated son and his attractive Iranian wife. Each couple is awaiting the arrival of an adopted infant daughter from Korea. After the instant babies from distant Asia are delivered, Bitsy Donaldson impulsively invites the Yazdans to celebrate: an "arrival party" that from then on is repeated every year as the two families become more and more deeply intertwined. Even Maryam is drawn in - up to a point. When she finds herself being courted by Bitsy Donaldson's recently widowed father, all the values she cherishes - her traditions, her privacy, her otherness-are suddenly threatened.

A luminous novel brimming with subtle, funny, and tender observations that immerse us in the challenges of both sides of the American story.


From the Hardcover edition.


Author Notes

Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on October 25, 1941. She graduated from Duke University at the age of 19 and completed graduate work in Russian studies at Columbia University. Before becoming a full-time author, she worked as a librarian and bibliographer.

Her first novel, If Morning Ever Comes, was published in 1964. Her other works include Saint Maybe, Back When We Were Grownups, Digging to America, Noah's Compass, The Beginner's Goodbye, A Spool of Blue Thread, and Vinegar Girl. She has won several awards including the PEN Faulkner Award in 1983 for Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, the 1985 National Book Critics Circle Award for The Accidental Tourist, and the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Breathing Lessons. The Accidental Tourist was adapted into a 1988 movie starring William Hurt and Geena Davis. In 2018 her title, Clock Dance, made the bestsellers list.

(Bowker Author Biography) Anne Tyler was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. "Back When We Were Grownups" is her 15th novel; her 11th, "Breathing Lessons", won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Letters. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

(Publisher Provided)


Reviews 4

Booklist Review

The finest novelists of psychologically acute domesticity purposefully linger over the preparation of meals and the furnishing of rooms, and often turn special occasions into crucibles for conflicts and epiphanies. A master at these time-honored techniques, Tyler extends her reach in her seventeenth novel and creates two very different households that serve as microcosms for twenty-first-century American society. The two families converge at the Baltimore airport, each nervously anticipating the arrival of an adopted Korean baby girl. Bitsy and Brad Donaldson appear to be stereotypical white middle-class Americans. The Yazdans--Ziba, Sami, and Sami's glamorous, long-widowed mother, Maryam--are Iranian Americans. Hoping that the families will stay in touch so that their daughters can grow up together, Bitsy invents Arrival Day, an annual celebration that grows increasingly elaborate each year. Ultimately, these amusingly awkward and contentious events become the gauge of their lives. Each of Tyler's endearing characters is authentically rendered, but Jin-Ho and Susan, the two diametrically opposed young girls, are standouts, as is Maryam. As the novel's reigning consciousness, she reveals what it feels like to be viewed as exotic or foreign in America before and after 9/11, and how one can become detrimentally attached to the role of outsider. Handling time with a light touch, Tyler creates many blissful moments of high emotion and keen humor while broaching hard truths about cultural differences, communication breakdowns, and family configurations. This deeply human tale of valiantly improvised lives is one of Tyler's best. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2006 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

Tyler (Breathing Lessons) encompasses the collision of cultures without losing her sharp focus on the daily dramas of modern family life in her 17th novel. When Bitsy and Brad Donaldson and Sami and Ziba Yazdan both adopt Korean infant girls, their chance encounter at the Baltimore airport the day their daughters arrive marks the start of a long, intense if sometimes awkward friendship. Sami's mother, Maryam Yazdan, who carefully preserves her exotic "outsiderness" despite having emigrated from Iran almost 40 years earlier, is frequently perplexed by her son and daughter-in-law's ongoing relationship with the loud, opinionated, unapologetically American Donaldsons. When Bitsy's recently widowed father, Dave, endearingly falls in love with Maryam, she must come to terms with what it means to be part of a culture and a country. Stretching from the babies' arrival in 1997 until 2004, the novel is punctuated by each year's Arrival Party, a tradition manufactured and comically upheld by Bitsy; the annual festivities gradually reveal the families' evolving connections. Though the novel's perspective shifts among characters, Maryam is at the narrative and emotional heart of the touching, humorous story, as she reluctantly realizes that there may be a place in her heart for new friends, new loves and her new country after all. (May 9) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

At a point when foreign adoptions are being contested and immigration continues to be problematic, Tyler seems to once again have her finger on the pulse of America. Two families meet at the airport as they await the arrival of their Korean-born daughters. The Iranian American Yazdans immediately set about Americanizing their daughter, while the Donaldsons do everything to help their child keep her Korean heritage. Leaning on each other for support as their daughters grow, these families have all the quirks one expects from Tyler's novels--including love to be found in the place one least expects it. When love becomes conflict, when a second adopted daughter fails to live up to the perfection of the first, we see mothers clinging even more tightly to roots that can only be severed and causing what in the hands of a lesser novelist would be an irrevocable rift. This might not be Tyler at her best (e.g. The Accidental Tourist or the more recent Breathing Lessons), but listening to even a subdued Tyler is just plain fun, and Blair Brown is the perfect reader. For all collections.--Rochelle Ratner, formerly with Soho Weekly News, New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.


School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-Two families arrive at the Baltimore/Washington International Airport in August 1997 to claim the Korean infants they have adopted. Strangers until that evening, they are destined to begin a friendship that will span their adoptive daughters' childhoods. Bitsy and Brad Donaldson are the quintessential middle-class, white American couple. Sami and Ziba Yazdan are Iranian Americans. From the beginning, the differences in the ways they will raise their daughters are obvious: Bitsy's well-meaning but overzealous efforts to retain her child's Korean heritage are evident in the chosen name-Jin-Ho-and in the Korean costumes that she dresses the girl in every year as they mark the anniversary of the adoption date. The Yazdans are comfortable with their daughter Susan's assimilation into their own Iranian-American culture. When Bitsy's widowed father begins to show romantic interest in Susan's grandmother, cultural differences are brought to a head. Tyler weaves a story that speaks to how we come to terms with our identity in multicultural America, and how we form friendships that move beyond the unease of differences. She does not dwell on the September 11 attacks, but subtly portrays the distrust that the Yazdans have to endure in the following months. Tyler's gift, as in her other novels, is her ability to infuse the commonplace with meaning and grace, and teens will appreciate her perceptiveness in exploring relationships within and between families across the cultural spectrum.-Kim Dare, Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

At eight o'clock in the evening, the Baltimore airport was nearly deserted. The wide gray corridors were empty, and the newsstands were dark, and the coffee shops were closed. Most of the gates had admitted their last flights. Their signboards were blank and their rows of vinyl chairs unoccupied and ghostly. But you could hear a distant hum, a murmur of anticipation, at the far end of Pier D. You could see an overexcited child spinning herself into dizziness in the center of the corridor, and then a grownup popping forth to scoop her up and carry her, giggling and squirming, back into the waiting area. And a latecomer, a woman in a yellow dress, was rushing toward the gate with an armful of long-stemmed roses. Step around the bend, then, and you'd come upon what looked like a gigantic baby shower. The entire waiting area for the flight from San Francisco was packed with people bearing pink- and blue-wrapped gifts, or hanging on to flotillas of silvery balloons printed with IT'S A GIRL! and trailing spirals of pink ribbon. A man gripped the wicker handle of a wheeled and skirted bassinet as if he planned to roll it onto the plane, and a woman stood ready with a stroller so chrome-trimmed and bristling with levers that it seemed capable of entering the Indy 500. At least half a dozen people held video cameras, and many more had regular cameras slung around their necks. A woman spoke into a tape recorder in an urgent, secretive way. The man next to her clasped an infant's velour-upholstered car seat close to his chest. MOM, the button on the woman's shoulder read--one of those man's read DAD. A nice-looking couple, not as young as you might expect--the woman in wide black pants and an arty black-and-white top of a geometric design, her short hair streaked with gray; the man a big, beaming, jovial type with a stubbly blond buzz cut, his bald knees poking bashfully from voluminous khaki Bermudas. And not only were there MOM and DAD; there were GRANDMA and GRANDPA, twice over--two complete sets. One grandma was a rumpled, comfortable woman in a denim sundress and bandanna-print baseball cap; the other was thin and gilded and expertly made up, wearing an ecru linen pantsuit and dyed-to-match pumps. The grandpas were dyed to match as well--the rumpled woman's husband equally rumpled, his iron-gray curls overdue for a cutting, while the gilded woman's husband wore linen trousers and some sort of gauzy tropical shirt, and part of his bright yellow hair was possibly not his own. It's true there were other people waiting, people clearly not included in the celebration. A weary-eyed woman in curlers; an older woman with a younger one who might have been her daughter; a father with two small children already dressed in pajamas. These outsiders stood around the edges, quiet and somehow dimmed, from time to time sneaking glances in the direction of MOM and DAD. The plane was late. People grew restless. A child pointed out accusingly that the arrivals board still read ON TIME--a plain old lie. Several teenagers wandered off to the unlit waiting area just across the corridor. A little girl in pigtails fell asleep on a vinyl chair, the button on her green plaid blouse proclaiming COUSIN. Then something changed. There wasn't any announcement--the PA system had been silent for some time--but people gradually stopped talking and pressed toward the jetway, craning their necks, standing on tiptoe. A woman in a uniform punched in a code and swung open the jetway door. A skycap arrived with a wheelchair. The teenagers reappeared. MOM and DAD, till now in the very center of the crowd, were nudged forward with encouraging pats, a path magically widening to let them approach the door. First off was a very tall young man in jeans, wearing the confused look of someone who'd been flying too long. He spotted the mother and daughter and went over to them and bent to kiss the daughter, but only on the cheek because she was too busy peering past him, just briefly returning his hug while she kept her eyes on the new arrivals. Two businessmen with briefcases, striding purposefully toward the terminal. A teenage boy with a backpack so huge that he resembled an ant with an oversized breadcrumb. Another businessman. Another teenage boy, this one claimed by the woman in curlers. A smiling, rosy-cheeked redhead instantly engulfed by the two children in pajamas. Now a pause. A sort of gathering of focus. A crisply dressed Asian woman stepped through the door with a baby. This baby was perhaps five or six months old--able to hold herself confidently upright. She had a cushiony face and a head of amazingly thick black hair, cut straight across her forehead and straight across the tops of her ears, and she wore a footed pink sleeper. "Ah!" everyone breathed--even the outsiders, even the mother and the grown daughter. (Although the daughter's young man still appeared confused.) The mother-to-be stretched out both arms, letting her tape recorder bounce at the end of its strap. But the Asian woman stopped short in an authoritative manner that warded off any approach. She drew herself up and said, "Donaldson?" "Donaldson. That's us," the father-to-be said. His voice was shaking. He had somehow got rid of the car seat, passed it blindly to someone or other, but he stayed slightly to the rear of his wife and kept one hand on her back as if in need of support. "Congratulations," the Asian woman said. "This is Jin-Ho." She transferred the baby to the mother's waiting arms, and then she unhitched a pink diaper bag from her shoulder and handed it to the father. The mother buried her face in the crook of the baby's neck. The baby stayed upright, gazing calmly out at the crowd. "Ah," people kept saying, and "Isn't she a cutie!" and "Did you ever see such a doll?" Flashbulbs, insistent video cameras, everyone pressing too close. The father's eyes were wet. Lots of people's were; there were sniffing sounds all through the waiting area and noses being blown. And when the mother raised her face, finally, her cheeks were sheeted with tears. "Here," she told the father. "You hold her." "Aw, no, I'm scared I might . . . You do it, honey. I'll watch." The Asian woman started riffling through a sheaf of papers. People still disembarking had to step around her, step around the little family and the well-wishers and the tangle of baby equipment. Luckily, the flight hadn't been a full one. The passengers arrived in spurts: man with a cane, pause; retired couple, pause . . . And then another Asian woman, younger than the first and plainer, with a tucked, apologetic way of looking about. She was lugging a bucket-shaped infant carrier by the handle, and you could tell that the baby inside must not weigh all that much. This baby, too, was a girl, if you could judge by the pink T-shirt, but she was smaller than the first one, sallow and pinched, with fragile wisps of black hair trailing down her forehead. Like the young woman transporting her, she showed a sort of anxious interest in the crowd. Her watchful black eyes moved too quickly from face to face. The young woman said something that sounded like "Yaz-dun?" "Yaz-dan," a woman called from the rear. It sounded like a correction. The crowd parted again, not certain which way to move but eager to be of help, and three people no one had noticed before approached in single file: a youngish couple, foreign-looking, olive-skinned and attractive, followed by a slim older woman with a chignon of sleek black hair knotted low on the nape of her neck. It must have been she who had called out their name, because now she called it again in the same clear, carrying voice. "Here we are. Yazdan." There was just the trace of an accent evident in the ruffled r's. The young woman turned to face them, holding the carrier awkwardly in front of her. "Congratulations, this is Sooki," she said, but so softly and so breathlessly that people had to ask each other, "What?" "Who did she say?" "Sooki, I believe it was." "Sooki! Isn't that sweet!" There was a problem unfastening the straps that held the baby in her carrier. The new parents had to do it because the Asian woman's hands were full, and the parents were flustered and unskilled--the mother laughing slightly and tossing back her explosive waterfall of hennaed curls, the father biting his lip and looking vexed with himself. He wore tiny, very clean rimless glasses that glittered as he angled first this way and then that, struggling with a plastic clasp. The grandmother, if that was who she was, made sympathetic tsk-tsking sounds. But at last the baby was free. Such a little bit of a thing! The father plucked her out in a gingerly, arm's-length manner and handed her to the mother, who gathered her in and rocked her and pressed her cheek against the top of the baby's feathery black head. The baby quirked her eyebrows but offered no resistance. Onlookers were blowing their noses again, and the father had to take off his glasses and wipe the lenses, but the mother and the grandmother stayed dry-eyed, smiling and softly murmuring. They paid no attention to the crowd. When someone asked, "Is yours from Korea too?" neither woman answered, and it was the father, finally, who said, "Hmm? Oh. Yes, she is." "Hear that, Bitsy and Brad? Here's another Korean baby!" The first mother glanced around--she was allowing the two grandmas a closer inspection--and said, "Really?" Her husband echoed her: "Really!" He stepped over to the other parents and held out his hand. "Brad Donaldson. That's my wife, Bitsy, over there." "How do you do," the second father said. "Sami Yazdan." He shook Brad's hand, but his lack of interest was almost comical; he couldn't keep his eyes off his baby. "Uh, my wife, Ziba," he added after a moment. "My mother, Maryam." He had a normal Baltimore accent, although he pronounced the two women's names as no American would have--Zee-bah and Mar-yam. His wife didn't even look up. She was cradling the baby and saying what sounded like "Soo-soo-soo." Brad Donaldson flapped a hand genially in her direction and returned to his own family. By the time the transfers had been made official--both Asian women proving to be sticklers for detail--the Donaldson crowd had started to thin. Evidently some sort of gathering was planned for later, though, because people kept calling, "See you back at the house!" as they moved toward the terminal. And then the parents themselves were free to go, Bitsy leading the way while the woman with the stroller wheeled it just behind her like a lady-in-waiting. (Clearly nothing would persuade Bitsy to give up her hold on that baby.) Brad lumbered after her, followed by a few stragglers and, at the very tail end, the Yazdans. One of the Donaldson grandpas, the rumpled one, dropped back to ask the Yazdans, "So. Did you have a long wait for your baby? Lots of paperwork and cross-examinations?" "Yes," Sami said, "a very long wait. A very long-drawn-out process." And he glanced toward his wife. "At times we thought it never would happen," he said. The grandpa clucked and said, "Don't I know it! Lord, what Bitsy and Brad had to put themselves through!" They passed to one side of Security, which was staffed by a lone employee sitting on a stool, and started down the escalator--all but the man with the bassinet. He had to take the elevator. The woman with the stroller, however, seemed undaunted. She tipped the front end of the stroller back smartly and stepped on without hesitation. "Listen," Brad called up to the Yazdans from the lower level. "You-all feel like coming to our house? Joining the celebration?" But Sami was absorbed in guiding his wife onto the escalator, and when he didn't answer, Brad flapped a hand again in that oh-well, affable way of his. "Maybe another time," he said to no one in particular. And he turned to catch up with the others. The exit doors slid open and the Donaldsons streamed out. They headed toward the parking garage in twos and threes and fours, and shortly after that the Yazdans emerged to stand on the curb a moment, motionless, as if they needed time to adjust to the hot, humid, dimly lit, gasoline-smelling night. Friday, August 15, 1997. The night the girls arrived. 2 Sometimes when Maryam Yazdan looked at her new little granddaughter she had an eerie, lightheaded feeling, as if she had stepped into some sort of alternate universe. Everything about the child was impossibly perfect. Her skin was a flawless ivory, and her hair was almost too soft to register on Maryam's fingertips. Her eyes were the shape of watermelon seeds, very black and cut very precisely into her small, solemn face. She weighed so little that Maryam often lifted her too high by mistake when she picked her up. And her hands! Tiny hands, with curling fingers. The wrinkles on her knuckles were halvah-colored (so amusing, that a baby had wrinkles!), and her nails were no bigger than dots. Susan, they called her. They chose a name that resembled the name she had come with, Sooki, and also it was a comfortable sound for Iranians to pronounce. "Su-san!" Maryam would sing when she went in to get her from her nap. "Su-Su-Su!" Susan would gaze out from behind the bars of her crib, sitting beautifully erect with one hand cupping each knee in a poised and self-possessed manner. Maryam took care of her Tuesdays and Thursdays--the days her daughter-in-law worked and Maryam did not. She arrived at the house around eight-thirty, slightly later if the traffic was bad. (Sami and Ziba lived out in Hunt Valley, as much as a half-hour drive from the city during rush hour.) By that time Susan would be having breakfast in her high chair. She would light up and make a welcoming sound when Maryam walked into the kitchen. "Ah!" was what she most often said--nothing to do with "Mari-june," which was what they had decided she should call Maryam. "Ah!" she would say, and she would give her distinctive smile, with her lips pursed together demurely, and tilt her cheek for a kiss. Well, not in the first few weeks, of course. Oh, those first weeks had been agony, the two parents trying their best, shrilling "Susie-june!" and shaking toys in her face and waltzing her about in their arms. All she did was stare at them, or--worse yet--stare away from them, twisting to get free, fixing her eyes stubbornly anywhere else. She wouldn't take more than a sip or two from her bottle, and when she woke crying in the night, as she did every few hours, her parents' attempts to comfort her only made her cry harder. Excerpted from Digging to America by Anne Tyler All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.