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2 Hawthorne Literature- A to Z

Digging to America

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Digging to America Cover

ISBN13: 9780345492340
ISBN10: 034549234x
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and suggested reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Anne Tyler’s Digging to America, a tale of two families raising adopted Korean daughters. Tyler traces the evolving relationships between the Iranian-American Yazdans, the all-American Donaldsons, and their extended families, offering subtle, penetrating, and often hilarious observations on the mores, clashing and complementary, that make up multicultural America.

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 Donaldsons 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 identi

7. Compare and contrast Ziba and Bitsy. How do they 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?

8. 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 do cultural patterns, expectations, and values also play a part?

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

10. What does Maryam’s description of her courtship and marriage [pp. 155–160] add to our image of her? Why has she chosen to keep the story to herself, not even sharing it with Sami?

11. Discuss Maryam’s reaction to Dave’s proposal [pp. 211–214]. 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?

12. To what extent does Digging to America echo the themes and concerns Tyler explored 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?

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

Pam in Kennewick, January 4, 2010 (view all comments by Pam in Kennewick)
What a great, heart-warming book! I'm a fan of Anne Tyler, and I thought this was one of her best. The families are flawed but still people you root for. A great pleasure!
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julieb43, March 4, 2008 (view all comments by julieb43)
A timely story by a terrific author. The story is mostly about fitting in, whether one is a native-born American or a recently-arrived American. It also touches on the difficulties experienced by immigrants since 9/11.

Tyler gives us a story about friendship and struggle between the American Donaldsons and the Iranian American Yazdans, centring on both families' adoptions of Korean infants.

She has always written expertly about relationships but here Tyler infuses her story with some socio-political issues. Humour is also well in attendance, as are abundant descriptions of the plentiful Iranian dishes that are served at the annual "arrival parties" for the newly-arrived Korean girls.

An interesting story with good character description and distinctive points of view.

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Product Details

ISBN:
9780345492340
Author:
Tyler, Anne
Publisher:
Ballantine Books
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Domestic fiction
Subject:
Psychological fiction
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20070831
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
304
Dimensions:
8 x 5.17 x 0.62 in 0.5 lb

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Related Subjects


Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture

Digging to America Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$3.95 In Stock
Product details 304 pages Ballantine Books - English 9780345492340 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Anne Tyler put her skilled pen to paper and wrote a powerful novel of America's melting pot. Brought together by international adoptions, two family's lives intertwine and illuminate America's cultural spectrum and all its universalities of human nature. Funny, touching, highly recommended.

"Staff Pick" by ,

Anne Tyler put her skilled pen to paper and wrote a powerful novel of America's melting pot. Brought together by international adoptions, two family's lives intertwine and illuminate America's cultural spectrum and all its universalities of human nature. Funny, touching, highly recommended.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "With her 17th novel, Tyler has delivered something startlingly fresh while retaining everything we love about her work. Digging to America delivers the blithely insular, suburban Baltimore characters we expect, but it's a bait-and-switch move....Her success at portraying culture clash and the complex longings and resentments of those new to America confirms what we knew, or should have known, all along: There's nothing small about Tyler's world, nothing precious about her attention to the hopes and fears of ordinary people." (read the entire Washington Post Book World review)
"Review A Day" by , "[S]tupendously wise and very funny....Digging to America succeeds on many levels — as a satire of millennial parenting, a tribute to autumn romances, and, most important, an exploration of our risible (though poignant) attempts to welcome otherness into our midst." (read the entire Atlantic Monthly review)
"Review" by , "Ms. Tyler deserves her reputation as a master of the fine threads of human relationships. The barely registered slights, fleeting intuitions and shivers of pity that pass between these characters are a pleasure to behold."
"Review" by , "Anne Tyler has written 17 novels and you only wish for more. Her newest, Digging to America, is wonderfully wry, yet intimately involving. There's a definite sense of loss when it's over and done."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "At a time when discussions of immigration and citizenship have become increasingly fraught, Tyler's Digging to America offers tranquil insight by telling one immigration story and telling it well."
"Review" by , "[A] compelling novel. Anyone can tell a story, but few writers allow us to identify with their 'just folks' characters, and, like Tyler, let us revel in the day-to-day, often repetitive activities that are at the heart of being a family member and a friend."
"Review" by , "Digging to America is studded with lovely observations....Tyler has cast her abiding theme — the art of surviving among shifting, challenging circumstances — in a story more anchored in a specific time than any previous work."
"Review" by , "A touching, well-crafted tale of friendship, families, and what it means to be an American. Recommended."
"Review" by , "If you plan to soak up a few rays while reading [Digging to America], liberally apply the sunscreen before you start the 277-page book. Otherwise, you might find yourself caught up in her 17th novel and not want to stop to slather up again."
"Review" by , "Once again, this wise and warm-hearted author delves beneath the surface of ordinary Americans to find that there are no ordinary Americans."
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