Friday, December 08, 2006

Read and Enjoy

Here’s a ringing endorsement for Anne Tyler’s Digging To America. When I started the book I was furious at my husband. After the first chapter, the fury was gone. I was hooked and intrigued. (Re: the husband/fury thing — just one of those “he-did-not-listen-to-my-advice-and-thus-disaster-ensued” scenarios.) Reading can be such a great stress reliever.

Digging To America is the story of two families — one “typically” (??) American and the other Iranian-American — who meet at an airport while greeting their adoptive daughters from Korea. (Please click on the above link for a detailed plot summary.)

The adoption process and all it entails is not the focal point of the novel. Rather, it is how the lives of these two families connect and intermingle throughout the ensuing years. As cultures clash, different perspectives are explored. Ultimately, common ground and meaning are found through mutual respect and love. Not only do the characters gain an appreciation as to their cultural differences, they also come to a better understanding of themselves while doing so.

This is especially true of Maryam Yazdan, the Iranian-born grandmother of one of the adopted girls. Maryam has been an “outsider” for so much of her life — clinging to the old ways, resisting the new. Seemingly aloof, Maryam struck me as a vulnerable and lonely woman. Near the end of the novel, she wonders, “…if every decision she had ever made had been geared toward preserving her otherness.”

A multitude of themes are explored — assimilation, identity, belonging, the importance of traditions (both old and new), acceptance, friendship, child-rearing, death, love. Tyler uses multiple POV to explore these themes and does it well — no jarring moments for the reader as to, “who is talking now?”

Some of the metaphors and images used to enhance and further these themes seemed somewhat obvious — not too subtle. A flaw? Ultimately, I decided it was not. Tyler is just too good an author to have let the reader down this way. I think it was deliberate — matching the style and manner in which the entire book is written. The novel itself is so easy to read — deceptively so. The story flows as to both dialogue and descriptive passages. It all seems so effortless and simple. It is and it isn’t. Easy to read? Yes, but not to be confused with a “light read.” Simple? No. There is so much to learn and understand about the lives of these characters — ordinary people encountering extra-ordinary events. Tyler has you thinking while you’re reading — and once you’ve finished. (I’m still thinking of Dave and Bitsy – two of my favourite characters.)

The title? That originates from a scene with one of the young girls — an example of one of those “simple” metaphors that work so well in this novel. Remember that expression, “Digging to China?” How when you were a child you actually believed you could? (Well, I did.) Little Jin-Ho asks her grandfather, “So those kids in China. Are they digging to America?...Wouldn’t that be cool?”

As her grandfather contemplates this image, he finds, “…some pleasure in this uncomplicated, coloring-book version of the world, where children in Mao jackets and children in Levi’s understood each other so seamlessly.”

If only we could all see the world through the eyes of children — retain our sense of being ”one” with mankind. It’s dwelling on those “differences” that causes such grief, unhappiness and, yes, horror in the world. Anne Tyler’s Digging To America is a timely reminder of how we are capable of making the world a better place for ourselves — and our children.


Linda said...

Loved this book too! Maryam was my favourite character.

Beth said...

I'm assuming this is Linda, my buddy since Grade 4 (??).
Great minds think alike. No wonder we've been friends for so long.