Wednesday, August 08, 2007


A few years ago (5? 7?) during a road trip from Ohio to Virginia, my mom picked out Saint Maybe on tape to entertain all of us. Since I was younger at the time, Anne Tyler's work didn't really strike me as the most amazing prose I'd ever heard. However, since we couldn't finish the end of the book during our trip, I picked up the book to finish it. The ending--wistful, unresolved, gentle--hit me as perfect. I didn't read any Tyler again for a few years, not until my mother bought me The Accidental Tourist for a plane ride to France. In Nice, the English Library had a good selection of her books, and I read them all.

The other day I was browsing the leisure section of the ODU library and came across Digging to America, her latest book. I picked it up because it was by Anne Tyler, and I was amazed to find that it mirrored a lot of my current interests. It centers around two families--an Iranian-American family and a "typical" American family--that are adopting girls from Korea. It focuses on what it means to be American, what it means to be foreign, and ultimately how we are all strangers to each other.

In France I felt American, and it is strange to be just a part of the crowd here in the US. Not surprisingly my best friend here, Lorene, just got back from spending 6 years in Germany, and we've been able to talk about Europe without feeling snobby. Because that's how it feels to us: like everyone is judging you for bragging about your experiences abroad (that are not Navy-related, of course!). Another of my friends, Willy, is from Ohio like me. He's never been out of the country, and sometimes it feels like he is blaming us for taking the opportunities we've had, like we're talking about living abroad in order to make others feel less fortunate.

I'm not sure how Jube feels. I don't think that he is blamed for being foreign, but there is still an aspect of bragging. Just because he's French he must be more cosmopolitan than we down-home cultureless Americans. When I first met him, he told me about how excited he had been to catch the French news on TV one night (France 2). After a few minutes he was disappointed to see that half of the broadcast was about the death of Charles Trenet. Still, it must have been strange to realize that the bulk of the French news wasn't even a talking point on the nightly American newscast.

Maybe we have to go abroad to see how our culture defines us. Maybe all you need is a critical eye, facing inward. In any case, Digging to America made me think about all of that, while making me care about its characters and making me wish we had moved to Baltimore...


jchevais said...

I do know what you mean.
Everytime I go home, I'm put on a pedestal by the family and I feel awkward talking about Europe and "how wonderful" it is. Sheesh. People in France have the same concerns as every other person living in aWestern-based civilization.

Lady Iphigenia said...

It's the story of my life. I've often been asked "why" I've traveled so much, "why" do I bother about learning so many languages, etc. I'm weird like that, you know. :-)