Digging to America by Anne Tyler; narrated by Blair Brown
Two families, the Donaldson's and the Yazdan's, wait at the Baltimore airport for the arrival of their adopted children from Korea. Bitsy and Brad Donaldson along with their parents and siblings are all assembled at the gate waiting for their adopted daughter and videotaping the big event. Sami and Ziba Yazdan and Sami's mother Maryam wait quietly at the gate for their daughter and observe the boisterous Donaldson's. Having shared the experience of their adopted children's arrival, the families are connected and an uneasy friendship is sparked.
Although they share this seminal event in their lives, they are quite different from each other and likely would not be friends without this event to bond them. The Donaldson's are open, jocular and easygoing while the Yazdan's are guarded, anxious and, at times, seem to try too hard. The Donaldson's represent the archetypal all American family while the Yazdan's are Iranian-American who have each assimilated to their home to different degrees. Maryam, although having lived in the US for thirty-five years, still feels very much an outsider and is painfully aware of how she is different from those that were born and bred in the US while her son Sami was born in the US and has worked hard to be as "American" as possible. His wife, Ziba, has lived half her life in Iran and half in the US and still struggles to honor her homeland while fitting in to her new home.
The Yazdan's are forced to confront their "differentness" each year at the "Arrival Party" conceived by Bitsy as a way to celebrate the arrival of their adopted Korean daughters. At the first arrival party, the differences between Donaldson's and the Yazdan's can be seen in each of their daughters - the Donaldson's have decided to keep their daughter's Korean name, Jin Ho, and have her decked out in a traditional Korean costume for this first arrival party. The Yazdan's have named their daughter a typical American name (and also easy for the Iranian relatives to pronounce), Susan, and she arrives to the party in denim overalls. The Donaldson's can afford to be eccentric and unique while the Yazdan's make every effort to blend in.
These annual arrival parties become the structure of the novel and each year we learn a little more about the families. The Yazdan's begin quite in awe of the Donaldson's and, at times, strive to be more like them; the Donaldson's are fascinated by what they perceive to be the Yazdan's exotic traditions. Over the years, however, the patina of these perceptions is marred and the relationship between the families becomes strained.
Tyler does an excellent job of characterizing the immigrant struggle to belong and the feeling of "otherness" that often plagues immigrant families. She also explores what it means to be American. Like most Tyler novels, "Digging to America" is multi-layered and there is much more going on than just the immigrant theme; by the end of the novel, I felt completely immersed in the lives of the Yazdan's and Donaldson's. Blair Brown narrates the audiobook - I really enjoyed her narration - she did accents for Maryam and some of the other Iranian characters and distinguished well among the other characters as well. I will seek out other audiobooks narrated by her and will continue to read/listen to Anne Tyler novels.