I love rainy Sundays

and I plan to spend the day reading Anne Tyler’s Digging to America.digging_america.jpg

Report to follow!


Okay, here is my “review”

In general, the book was all right. Ann Tyler is a capable writer
and she did her best to flesh out the characters. She certainly seemed
to have done a lot of research (and maybe read a lot of adoptive parent
blogs/discussion groups) and her character of Bitsy embodied many of
the modern-day adoptive parent behaviors. I’m not close to
Iranian-Americans, so I do not know if her portrayal of the Yasdan
family is accurate.

This book was definitely written for the anglo-American perspective,
with liberal use of descriptors such as “foreign looking” [pg. 7] to
describe the Yazdan family.

I thought the friendship between the families seemed pretty
far-fetched. Again and again, it was characterized that the
Iranian-American wife was somehow envious of the white character and
always seems to defer to her silly ideas although the husband routinely
makes fun of “Americans” even though he was born and raised in the U.S.
Yes, there are instances where Bitsy, the white adoptive parent, is too
eager to “appreciate” the Iranian and Korean cultures. Tyler’s use of
Bitsy is also stereotypic.

And the main protagonist, Maryam, is an Iranian immigrant, who at
the setting of the story has been in the U.S. for 39 years. Some
references are made to Allah, but it is never clear whether the family
are Muslims or if they have another religious practice. It’s an
important feature to leave out, because from what I know, Muslims don’t
practice adoption (more of guardianship).

I didn’t like how the child adopted into the white adoptive family
was often portrayed in positive language [what a doll, cutie, alert amd
calm] while the second “Asian” woman and the infant to the Yazdans was
described in negative ways [sallow and pinched, anxious interest].
Also, the Yazdan family is described as “flustered and unskilled.”

I think Tyler was trying to ask the question of what it means to be
American and at what point do those who are not born in the U.S. decide
to leave behind their old-country ways. Two of the adoptive parents are
trying to be open to their daughter’s Korean heritage but in the very
“cultural tourist” kind of way, while the other adoptive family,
themselves having navigated through the issues of “belonging,” tend to
raise their child as a thoroughly modern Iranian-American. So the
daughter speaks mostly English and some Farsi, and grows to learn the
Iranian ways of washing rice, etc. So there is this juxtaposition of
Iranian and “American” and no consciousness of Korean cultures in that

Overall, this was a book for adoptive parents and those with a
passing interest in adoption but not for adopted individuals. As a
Korean adoptee, I saw all the stereotypes of adoptive parents portrayed
in the four parents in this book. There are many predictable moments of
cultural misunderstandings, the typical “what is American” discussions.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s