The veteran novelist (The Amateur Marriage, 2004, etc.) extends her range without losing her essence in this tale of two families drawn together by their adopted daughters despite the friction created by their very different personalities and ethnicities.
On Aug. 15, 1997, two baby girls arrive at the Baltimore airport from Korea. Jin-Ho is swept into the exuberant arms of Bitsy and Brad Dickinson-Donaldson, who are throwing “what looked like a gigantic baby shower” in the waiting room with their extended family. Sooki is quietly handed over to the Yazdans—Sami and his wife, Ziba, accompanied by his mother, Iranian immigrant Maryam—who rename her Susan. Wanting to connect Jin-Ho with another Korean child, outgoing Bitsy pulls the Yazdans into her family’s orbit and establishes the annual tradition of celebrating the girls’ Arrival Day. The two couples become close, especially Bitsy and Ziba, but Maryam is dubious about these brash Americans, with their slightly tactless self-assurance and intrusive questions about Iranian traditions. The ensuing culture clash enriches Tyler’s narrative without diminishing her skills as an engaging storyteller and delicate analyst of personality. She examines the insecurities underneath Bitsy’s overbearing manner, American-born Sami’s amused condescension toward both his natal home and the land of his ancestors and a host of other complex aspects of her well-developed characters, including Ziba’s nouveau-riche parents and Bitsy’s easygoing father, Dave. Maryam is the novel’s central figure: a teenaged immigrant, widowed before she was 40, who has never felt quite at home anywhere and maintains a critical distance from Americans and Iranians alike. Only Dave breaches her defenses. After his beloved wife’s death—Tyler’s portrait of his grieving is sensitive and touching—he unabashedly declares his need for Maryam, who reciprocates and then panics. Readers will hope that these flawed, lovable people will find happiness, but they won’t be sure until the final page, so deftly has the author balanced the forces that keep us apart against those that bring us together.
Vintage Tyler, with enough fresh, new touches to earn her the next generation of fans.