4 reviews

Digging to America: A Novel
by Anne Tyler

Published: 2007-08-28
Paperback : 291 pages
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32 clubs reading this now
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Recommended to book clubs by 4 of 4 members
New York Times Bestseller

Rich, tender, and searching, Digging to America challenges the notion that home is a fixed place, and celebrates the subtle complexities of life on all sides of the American experience.

Two families meet at the Baltimore airport while waiting for their baby ...
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New York Times Bestseller

Rich, tender, and searching, Digging to America challenges the notion that home is a fixed place, and celebrates the subtle complexities of life on all sides of the American experience.

Two families meet at the Baltimore airport while waiting for their baby girls to arrive from Korea. The Iranian-American Sami and Ziba Yazdan, with Ziba's elegant and reserved mother, Maryam, in tow, wait quietly while brash and all-American Bitsy and Brad Donaldson, plus extended family, are armed with camcorders and a fleet of balloons proclaiming "It's a girl!" After they decide together to throw an impromptu "arrival party," a tradition is born, and so begins a lifelong friendship between the two families.

As they raise their daughters, the Yazdan and Donaldson families grapple with questions of assimilation and identity. When Bitsy's recently widowed father sets his sights on Maryam, she must confront her own idea of what it means to be other, and of who she is and what she values.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.


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. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

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 Donald-sons keep their baby’s Korean name, Jin-Ho. What is the significance of these choices, both within the context of the novel and in the context of adoption in general? 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?

2. Right from the start, Maryam feels a deep connection with Susan–“something around the eyes, some way of looking at things, some onlooker’s look: that was what they shared. Neither one of them quite belonged” (p. 13). Does Maryam’s pleasure in bonding with Susan hint at needs or emotions that she is unable or unwilling to acknowledge? 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?

3. What aspects of her heritage does Maryam value most and why? Why is she so unsettled by her visit to Iran and her reactions to Iranians in the country (p. 39)? Why is she annoyed when her cousin’s American husband sprinkles bits of Farsi into his conversation (p. 147)? Why has she raised Sami to be “more American than the Americans” (p. 83), even as she clings to her otherness?

4. Does Maryam’s behavior show that she feels not only estranged from American society but also in some way superior to it? What specific incidents and conversations bring this aspect of her personality to light?

5. In addition to being a wonderfully amusing vignette, what is the import of Sami’s “performance piece” (pp. 80—81)? Why does Tyler use humor and mockery to convey a serious point about Americans and how they appear to immigrants? Does the fact that Sami is American-born and -raised make his criticisms more credible (and perhaps more acceptable) than they would be if a newcomer to the country expressed them?

6. How does Maryam differ from Ziba’s parents and her cousin Farah, the other Iranian immigrants depicted in the novel? What factors, both practical and psychological, influence the characters’ desire and ability to make a place for themselves in American society? What do these varying portraits show about the process of assimilation? Are there inherent contradictions between accepting the culture of an adopted homeland and retaining one’s ethnic identity?

7. 1How do Ziba and Betsy differ as women? As mothers? Which woman is more sympathetically drawn? How does Tyler use both negative and positive attributes to bring each woman to life? How do the women’s individual approaches to motherhood influence the way they regard and evaluate each other? Is Ziba overly susceptible to Bitsy’s criticism and suggestions? Does her friendship with Ziba, as well as her frequent encounters with Maryam, affect Bitsy’s beliefs or behavior? Does the relationship between Ziba and Bitsy change over the course of the book?
How do the portraits of Sami and Brad compare to those of their wives? Are their personalities as richly described? Do they play parallel roles within their families? Is their behavior in relation to their children and wives a reflection of their personalities and the nature of their marriages, or of cultural patterns, expectations, and values?

8. Does the romance between Dave and Maryam unfold in a realistic way? In addition to Dave’s moving reaction to Connie’s death, what other events or conversations show that he contains a depth and a self-awareness that Maryam and the others seem oblivious to?

9. What does Maryam’s description of her courtship and marriage to Sami’s father. (pp. 155—60) add to our image of her? Why has she chosen to keep the story to herself, not even sharing it with Sami?

10. Were you surprised by Maryam’s reaction to Dave’s proposal (pp. 211—14)? What does her conversation with Sami and Ziba reveal about her difficulties in reconciling her prejudices about Americans and her affection for Dave? In what ways do her protests also bring to light her ambivalent feelings about who she is and what she is willing to give up at this stage of her life? Why do you think Maryam makes the decision she does at the end of the book?

11. To what extent does Digging to America echo the themes and concerns Tyler explores in her previous novels? Do Tyler’s views on marriage and family here differ in significant ways from those presented in her earlier works? How does Digging to America compare to other books you have read that portray women trying to establish an identity apart from what is expected–or demanded– of them?

Suggested by Members

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by baltznoah (see profile) 06/15/10

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

DIGGING TO AMERICA is the only one of my books in which I've made a personal appearance. I'm the one on page 4. I'm standing in the airport with my daughter, waiting for her boyfriend to arrive from San Francisco.

This was back in 1997, when you could still meet passengers at the gate. The plane was late and we were just biding our time, observing the crowd around us. They all seemed to know each other. They carried balloons and Welcome signs, and they had an air of celebration. At their center stood a man and woman—the man wearing a DAD button, while the woman's read MOM.

Well, of course we had to see how it ended. The plane arrived; Greg stepped off; Mitra gave him a hug but she was looking over his shoulder. "Wait a minute," she told him. "We can't go now." And eventually, sure enough, along came an attendant carrying a tiny, serious baby boy with a face as round as a clock.

I will never forget the mother's expression as she first took her son in her arms. I have thought about it so often—the drama of that moment, and the fact that adoption seems far more eventful, in some ways, than plain old childbirth. That is why I finally sat down to write this book.

As for the Iranians in the story, they're here because for years I have wanted to reproduce some of the hilarity and intrigue that I witnessed among my late husband's 300-some Iranian relatives. It wasn't till maybe halfway along that I realized there was another reason for including them: the Iranians, like the adopted daughters, are concerned with issues of belonging and non-belonging. They, too, are digging to America.

I'll step back onto page 4 now. I hope you enjoy getting to know the Donaldsons and the Yazdans.

Book Club Recommendations

Enjoying Digging to America
by baltznoah (see profile) 06/15/10
A short summary of the book and hints about what follows the first somewhat tedious firts chapter. My group of 6 all enjoyed the book a great deal, many discribing it as hard to get past the first chapter. If I lead this book again, I would describe the discussion that could result to entice readers to complete the book. I was a fantastic book for indepth discussion
Go the extra mile and eat Iranian!
by lindseyschmidt (see profile) 08/01/09

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Digging to America"by jolds (see profile) 09/05/14

Insightful novel about adoption of foreign infants. Typical Ann Tyler character development. Plot a little slow.

  "Digging to America"by kimhalti (see profile) 02/11/11

I love Anne Tyler!! And this is one of my favorites of all her books. As always there are her delightfully quirky characters and a pleasant story line. Lots of laughs but also interesting insight into... (read more)

  "Digging to America"by baltznoah (see profile) 06/15/10

A very informative book, inspired reading non-fiction about the topic of international adoption and assimilation of immigrent families in the USA.

I enjoyed the book a great deal and reco

... (read more)

  "Great Discussion"by lindseyschmidt (see profile) 08/01/09

This book inspired terrific discussion amongst the ladies in our group and our host created a beautiful Iranian meal to get us into the mood.

Anne created believable characters and when

... (read more)

  "Human and complex"by Sallyone (see profile) 01/08/09

I really thought this was a significant novel, about outsider-ness, told with a kind of seamless nautralness which marks Ms. Tyler's writing as so fine.

  "Interesting book"by MrsFlutterby (see profile) 12/21/08

This was an interesting read but left some of our group wishing for better writing.

  "Should be called Digging IN America"by Dannonlady (see profile) 09/07/08

Would not recommend this book at all. Bitsy is a sterotype. No one seems to realize what it IS to be an American and how we are all different. Premise isn't realistic.

  "Two families come together through their adopted daughters."by christymg (see profile) 06/07/08

A good story about relationships. Not much about the kids, more about the older adults. Good book, not so much to talk about.

  "A Juicy Discussion, especiallyl if you live in a diverse community"by loishobart (see profile) 04/25/08

Everyone in our group enjoyed reading this book which fueled us for a very rich discussion. WE are a very diverse gathering of women so had many nuggets and tales to offer. We used discuss... (read more)

  "Great for discussion, but not such a good read."by arid8her (see profile) 04/22/08

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