bridging cultures book group

Jennifer Kriksciun

This was my first visit to Hartford Public Library’s Bridging Cultures book group. After reading this month’s selection, Anne Tyler’s novel Digging to America, there was much I wanted to express and much more I wanted to hear from others, so I was glad I had signed up.  Tyler’s novel tells the story of two couple’s experiences after having met unexpectedly at a Baltimore airport.  Both couples were awaiting the arrival of baby girls from Korea and though one might think their subsequent journeys would proceed as similarly as their meetings had begun, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

I must disclose- I’m also an adopted child, not from Korea but from Taiwan, having emigrated from there in the early 1970s at only a month old. I feel a particular kinship with little Jin-Ho and Susan.  I could relate to the feelings of cultural sensitivity expressed by the overly exuberant Donaldson family for my American parents also wanted me to feel connected with my Taiwanese roots. But I was reminded of how my parents were really quite unfazed by cultural assimilation and instead, encouraged me to embrace my identity- that of an American.   

The Hartford History room on the third floor of Hartford Public Library quickly filled with over 20 book group participants.  As the newbie in the group, I quickly took a seat while others mingled familiarly with one another. Janet Bauer took the role of group facilitator and asked us to express our initial thoughts on the book and I quickly spoke up.  I could not hide my perspective, how reading the book had jarred memories similar to those of the two little girls. 

Tyler’s focuses on the Iranian-American grandmother Maryam and her relationship with Dave, a fellow widower. Many in the group felt strongly about Maryam’s development. Some felt a sense of connection but understood her character’s irony- that she is unable to let go of her past and move forward. It was the sense of “outsiderness” that everyone seemed to relate to- and how that feeling of isolation inhibits so much.  For Maryam, it prevents her from accepting Dave’s affections. I read, hoping at each turn of the page, that as flawed as they both are, that they both find some sense of happiness. I won’t spoil the end, but I can tell you- it’s worth the wait. Indeed, “it’s a lot of work, being foreign.”
I look forward to next month’s selection.