DIGGING TO AMERICA by Anne Tyler (Doubleday), 277 pages, $32.95 cloth. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Anne Tyler specializes in quiet observation - even when her subject is emotionally charged - and Digging To America fits right into her mould.
In chapter one, we meet two families, the all-American Donaldsons and the Iranian Yazdans, both waiting at the airport to welcome the Korean infants they are adopting.
But what looks like an examination of contrasting child-rearing values that will blossom into a character study of two quite different children turns into an exploration of the difficulties immigrants - even privileged immigrants - face trying to belong.
Every year on the date the babies arrived, the families celebrate with a party that allows the clans to stay connected and the reader to check in on the latest developments. The Donaldsons, in politically correct mode, keep Jin Ho's Asian name, whereas the wholly assimilated Yazdans change their child's name to Susan. Bitsy Donaldson won't send her kid to childcare. Ziba Yazdan continues to work. Bitsy's a bit judgmental; Sami and Ziba are more easygoing.
But the most interesting character is Maryam, Sami's mother, still hopelessly conflicted about her relationship to America. She and her husband by an arranged marriage emigrated 35 years ago, but since his death she's remained aloof from American culture and the people around her. Though she starts to feel more involved when her granddaughter arrives, her conflicts resurface in a big way when Bitsy's dad expresses a romantic interest in her.
As usual, Tyler is gloriously precise with her prose and wittily insightful. She knows of what she writes - her late husband was Iranian - and she once again is comfortable writing about her beloved Baltimore.
It's not a big, loud bang of a book. But that's not Tyler's specialty.