Thursday, May 28, 2009


In my attempt to read books from different genres and authors, I stumbled upon this paperback in our collection. The story opens with two young families waiting for the arrival of their newly adopted babies coming from South Korea. Bitsy and Brad Dickinson-Donaldson are the stereotypical loud, affluent, and overconfident young "American" couple. Sami and Ziba Yazdan are a young Iranian American couple. I don't feel the author takes a lot of time to develop her characters - her focus is more on the relationship issues that come up between the different characters. The only character fully developed was Sami's mother Maryam who immigrated from Iran as a young bride. Bitsy's confidence in her child-rearing ways seems more of a mask - towards the end of the book you see that underneath it is a mask for her uncertainty of who and what she is. She makes strong efforts to preserve her child's Korean heritage by dressing her in traditional costume every year on Arrival Day. Her insistence on celebrating Arrival Day, the day the babies arrived to the United States, is indicative of this. Although birthdays are celebrated, they are overshadowed by the girls' arrival to the United States, as if this is much more important. Ziba, on the other side of the coin, is content to have her child assimilate directly into her Iranian American culture. She does not emphasize the differences between her and her child.
What was most interesting in this book was how cultures can differ. You see the differences between Ziba and Bitsy, between Bitsy and her father, between Sami and his mother Maryam, and even in Maryam and her relatives back in Iran. The assimilation of other cultures into the "American" culture is fascinating. Maryam no longer feels as if she belongs in Iran, although she still feels like a foreigner in the United States 40 years after her arrival. Her feelings of alienation intensify after 9/11 where any person of any Middle East heritage is suspect, regardless of the current political situation.
Maryam is the only shining star in this novel - although I did not always sympathize with her. Her fear of losing her Iranian heritage leads to stubborness, especially when it comes to her relationship with Bitsy's father. SPOILER: The author shows Maryam misinterpreting his motives - assuming that he is disrespectful of her heritage although he tries to integrate it into his marriage proposal. This is where you start to realize that the differences in the culture can cause so much discomfort and pain, although there is no intention of doing so.
Anne Tyler's strength lies in her development of the issues. This book started examining what it means to claim yourself as an American but it was not long enough to come to any conclusion. Fans of Richard Russo or Anna Quindlen will enjoy the everyday characters dealing with everyday issues of their lives. It was not a terrible book, or even a bad book. I didn't enjoy it, mostly because I had trouble identifying or sympathizing with most of the characters.

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