Book Review: Digging to America

Digging to AmericaAnne Tyler: Digging to America
(Vintage, 2007)

My slightly random reading patterns in respect of Korea-related books sometimes turns up a gem, sometimes introduces me to an author I wouldn’t otherwise have read, and sometimes proves a disappointment. This book falls into the second category. It came up on my list of Amazon recommendations based on my past purchasing behaviour, and I read the publisher’s blurb:

Friday August 15th, 1997. Two tiny Korean babies are delivered to two very different Baltimore families. Every year, on the anniversary of “Arrival Day” the two families celebrate together, with more and more elaborately competitive parties, as little Susan and Jin-ho take roots and become American.

Full of wonderfully hilarious moments, Digging to America is a novel about belonging and otherness, pride and prejudice, young love and unexpected old love, and about families and the impossibility of ever getting it right…

A book about Korean orphans growing up in middle America, struggling to come to terms with their own identity, I thought. So I bought it, thinking it might be a useful supplement to the corpus of Korean-American literature, but written by a non-Korean-American.

Well, yes and no. I hadn’t really read the blurb closely enough: if the girls were adopted in 1997, the book isn’t going to have much to say about their adult experiences. So while the background to the book, and the reason the two families get to know each other, is the two Korean orphans, the book is really about the relations between, and the hang-ups of, the two families. One family is white all-American, almost painfully culturally considerate (“You might want to give her soy milk. Soy is more culturally appropriate” for a Korean girl not used to dairy products, suggests the all-American Bitsy) and determined to follow all the latest parenting techniques. The other family is of Iranian immigrants, not sure whether they want to be thought of as American or Iranian.

It’s a perfectly readable book, and sometimes quite amusing too, but I’m not going to give it a rating because it’s kind of outside the remit of this site, not having sufficient Korean interest.

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