Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Digging to America by Anne Tyler

Sometimes books come at the right time. I had heard from so many friends just how good this book was, but I didn’t get to it the first time it came in for me. But I was really ready now for something so seamlessly written, with characters so clearly and compassionately drawn. Two American families in Baltimore adopt Korean girls and meet in the airport—the Donaldsons and the Yazdans. The Donaldsons invite the Yazdans into their lives right away, wanting the girls to grow up together, share their Korean heritage. Smoothly transitioning from year to year, from character to character, Tyler explores the idiosyncracies of family life and parenting, as well as the complex terrain of national identity, belonging, and “foreignness.” Sami and Ziba Yazdan are Iranian, and Maryam, Sami’s mother, still feels very much apart from American life even though she has lived there the majority of her adult life. What is an American life? What are the rules of American society, being as so many of them are not made explicit? Tyler evokes the viewpoints of her characters with a warmth and generosity that is infectious. I simply did not want this book to end—I wanted the years to keep scrolling by, the follow both families much longer.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Saturday by Ian McEwan

I thoroughly enjoyed rereading this novel. Rather than synopsize it, a few of my favorite passages:

“At times this biography made him comfortably nostalgic for a verdant, horse-drawn, affectionate England; at others he was faintly depressed by the way a whole life could be contained by a few hundred pages—bottled, like homemade chutney. And by how easily an existence, its ambitions, networks of family and friends, all its cherished stuff, solidly possessed, could so entirely vanish.”

“It’s a commonplace of parenting and modern genetics that parents have little or no influence on the characters of their children. You never know who you are going to get. Opportunities, health, prospects, accent, table manners—these might lie within your power to shape. But what really determines the sort of person who’s coming to live with you in which sperm finds which egg, how the cards in the two packs are chosen, then how they are shuffled, halved and spliced at the moment of recombination. Cheerful or neurotic, kind or greedy, curious or dull, expansive or shy and anywhere in between; it can be quite an affront to parental self-regard, just how much of the work has already been done. On the other hand, it can let you off the hook.”

“Who else could love him so knowingly, with such warmth and teasing humour, or accumulate so rich a past with him? …By some accident of character, it’s familiarity that excites him more than sexual novelty. …This fidelity might look like virtue or doggedness, but it’s neither of these because he exercises no real choice. This is what he has to have: possession, belonging, repetition.”

A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle

A sweet story about life and love after death—set in a New York cemetery where a hermit, a talking raven, and the ghosts of the recently deceased live.