Digging to America

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Digging to America
First edition
Author Anne Tyler
Country United States
Language English
Publisher Knopf
Publication date
May 2, 2006
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 323 pp
ISBN 0-307-26394-0
OCLC 61520455

Digging to America, published by Knopf in May 2006, is American author Anne Tyler's seventeenth novel.


Digging to America is a story set in Baltimore, Maryland about two very different families’ experiences with adoption and their relationships with each other. Sami and Ziba Yazdan, an Iranian-American family, and Brad and Bitsy Dickinson-Donaldson, an all-American suburban family, meet at the airport on the day their infant daughters arrive from Korea to begin life in America. The two families become friends and begin a tradition of celebrating the arrival of their adopted daughters each year.

The differences between the two families are apparent from the beginning, especially in the way each couple decides to raise their daughters. Brad and Bitsy choose not to Americanize their daughter, Jin-Ho; they keep her Korean name and teach her about Korean culture as she grows up. Sami and Ziba, on the other hand, choose to raise their daughter Susan like other American children.

Through the efforts of Bitsy, the two families begin a tradition of celebrating their daughters’ arrival in America with an Arrival Party each year. The celebration becomes a mix of American, Korean, and Iranian culture with the different food and people present. The story continues to progress through the early childhood of Jin-Ho and Susan, displaying the differences in how they are raised and the impact it has on them as they grow older. At times, the relationship between the two families is strained because of their contrasting opinions of some issues, but they remain good friends throughout the entire story.

As the lives of the two families continue to become closer, a new and separate relationship starts to flourish between Bitsy’s widowed father, Dave, and Sami’s widowed mother, Maryam. Dave has recently lost his wife to cancer and is in need of a companion to help him recover from the loss. Maryam, who has been widowed for many years, is at first reluctant to change her life of privacy for Dave, but she eventually gives in. In the end, Maryam realizes that Dave is too much of a threat to the orderly boundaries of her life, and she ends their relationship.

Character List[edit]

Jin-Ho Dickinson-Donaldson - the daughter of Brad and Bitsy, adopted from Korea at six months of age. Jin Ho is a complex character who maintains a dynamic personality throughout the book.

Susan Yazdan - the daughter of Sami and Ziba, adopted from Korea at six months of age. Susan may be seen as “bossy” to Jin Ho, but she is clearly the apple of her parents’ eye.

Bitsy Donaldson - the mother of Jin-Ho and Xiu-Mei, wife of Brad, and daughter of Connie and Dave. She is a very determined and opinionated woman, proactive about life and her relationships with people.

Ziba Yazdan - the mother of Susan and wife of Sami. Ziba immigrated to the United States from Iran in high school and works as an interior designer. Ziba is very self-aware, always concerned about others and about her self-image.

Brad Donaldson - the father of Jin-Ho and Xiu-Mei, husband of Bitsy, and son of Pat and Lou. Brad is loving husband who seems to believe Bitsy can do no wrong.

Sami Yazdan - the father of Susan, husband of Ziba, and son of Maryam. Sami was born in the United States. He is a quiet but opinionated man who really has a heart for his family.

Maryam - The mother of Sami and grandmother of Susan. Maryam is still very in touch with the Iranian culture. Her quiet confidence is sometimes portrayed as snotty. Maryam and Dave’s “love” relationship is one of the most complex relationships in the novel.

Dave - the father of Bitsy, grandfather of Jin-Ho and Xiu-Mei, and husband of the late Connie. He is a warm-hearted and jolly man who falls in love with Maryam.

Lou - the father of Brad and husband of Pat.

Pat - the mother of Brad and wife of Lou.

Xiu-Mei - the younger daughter of Bitsy and Brad, adopted from China. She worries her parents sick with her pacifier addiction. Her stubborn ways prove to be a challenge for Brad and Bitsy.

Farah - the cousin of Maryam who lives in Vermont with her husband. She keeps in touch with her Iranian relatives, but manages to live an extravagant and exciting life that Maryam throws herself into once a year.



One of the themes in Tyler’s novel is the struggle to belong in America. Both the Donaldsons and the Yazdans adopt daughters from Korea; however, they take very different approaches to raising them. The Yazdans do more to make Susan feel like she is American than the Donaldsons do for Jin-Ho. The Yazdans change Sooki’s name to Susan, allow her to wear jeans, and style her hair in an American way. The Donaldsons keep Jin-Ho’s name the same, often dress her in Korean clothes and keep her hair the same as when she first arrived in America.

Maryam struggles with the feeling that she doesn’t belong in America even though she’s been there for many years. She moved to America as a teenager and is now a U.S. citizen, but she is reluctant to call herself an American. She has distanced herself from the fast-paced American lifestyle. She does not own an answering machine or a cell phone. She says she danced the usual “Immigration Tango”, she was happy to become a U.S. citizen but sad to no longer be an Iranian citizen.


Another theme in this novel is parenting. Bitsy and Ziba have very different parenting techniques, which often creates tension between them. Bitsy and Brad choose to maintain much about what makes Jin-Ho Korean, and, while Sami and Ziba do not forget this piece of who Susan is, they do not focus on it as much. Bitsy is often very critical of the way Ziba is raising Susan. She does not agree with Ziba’s decision to work a few days a week, leaving Susan with Maryam. When Ziba announces that Susan is attending preschool, Bitsy says that Susan is too young. Bitsy is also critical when the Yazdans give Jin-Ho soda and it makes her sick. While at first Ziba appreciates these critiques and finds everything Bitsy knows about parenting impressive, she soon tires of it. When Brad and Bitsy adopt their second child Xiu-Mei, Bitsy’s strict parenting style diminishes and she is no longer as critical of the way Ziba raises Susan.

Public/Private Boundaries

Another theme in the novel is the boundary between what parts of family life are shared and what parts should be kept private. The Yazdans keep more of their family life private than the Donaldsons do. From the very beginning of the book, the differences are clear. The Yazdans have a very small group of people to greet the baby at the airport, while the Donaldsons invite all of their extended family. Some things that most families would do in the privacy of their homes become a public affair for the Donaldons. Toilet training Jin-Ho, for example, is something most would keep private, but Bitsy actually throws a party to celebrate the event. When Dave proposes to Maryam, he does so in front of both of their families. He feels this is appropriate, but Maryam is horrified by the public proposal.


New York Times Bestseller, A New York Times Notable Book, 2008 All-Iowa Reads selection


In a mixed review, Tine Jordan of Entertainment Weekly wrote "for all of Tyler's writerly gifts — and she has many — it's hard to enjoy Digging to America: the characters are just that unlikeable."[1] The Daily Telegraph praised the book, calling it "...a comedy that is not so much brilliant as luminous - its observant sharpness sweetened by a generous understanding of human fallibility. So sure is her tone, so graceful her style, that the reader absorbs without literary indigestion a narrative constructed almost entirely of grand set-pieces of domestic comedy."[2] Ron Charles of The Washington Post wrote "With her 17th novel, Tyler has delivered something startlingly fresh while retaining everything we love about her work."[3]


  1. ^ Jordan, Tina (May 9, 2006). "Digging to America (2006)". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2008-04-14. 
  2. ^ Shilling, Jane (May 14, 2006). "Longing woven into comedy". London: The Daily Telegraph. 
  3. ^ Charles, Ron (April 30, 2006). "The Roads to Home". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-04-14. 

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