Book 52 in Cannonball Read 2
I finished this book over a month ago, but I have been unable to sit down and write about it. It’s much harder to write about a good book than a bad one, and Tyler’s novel Digging to America approaches greatness, in subtle and small ways. It doesn’t have a jolting premise or a hook to lure the reader in - just solid writing, interesting well-drawn characters, and a damn near perfect ending.
Digging to America is the story of two American families who meet while adopting Korean girls. The Dickinson-Donaldsons are a family of WASP’s, the Yazdans are second generation Iranian-Americans. The book is the story of the two families getting to know each other, as well as of the different ways they approach raising children from different backgrounds as themselves. For example, the Dickinson-Donaldson’s keep their daughter’s Korean name - Jin-ho - but the Yazdans change their daughter’s name to Susan.
The main character is Maryam, the mother of the Iranian adoptive couple. She stands somewhat outside of the two families, watching as the couples grow closer together. Her reactions to the enthusiasm and almost smothering friendship of the Dickinson-Donaldsons fuel the novel, providing friction for the loving but overwhelming family to bump up against.
Tyler subtly shifts the point of view of between sections of the novel. The book is written in third person, and the subjective information provided only comes from one source in each section - most amusingly from the five-year-old Jin-Ho near the end. Tyler weaves this into the fabric of the book, using it to create a complex portrait of the two families and all the relationships they share.
I mentioned the ending of the book. It is not anything earth-shattering, just a well-written ending in which a character makes a small, but defining choice. It doesn’t reach for a grandness or profundity that breaks with the tone of the book, it just wraps up the intimate and detailed story with grace.
Digging to America is a small treasure, a web of stories told with skill and compassion. You can’t ask for much more in a novel than Tyler gives her readers here.