Reader, She Nailed It

You know what’s better than a classic novel? A classic novel retold in a fresh, exciting way. I recently stayed up way past my bedtime to finish Patricia Park’s Re Jane, and am completely delighted with how Jane Eyre’s story might have played out if Jane were a 21st century Korean-American woman from Queens. Park has captured the spirit of the original novel while also exploring how a story’s theme–in this case, the story of an orphan trying to find her rightful place in the world–can be influenced by a character’s race, class, and culture.

Photo by Allana Taranto, all rights reserved. Click through to read the New York Times review of Re Jane.

Photo by Allana Taranto, all rights reserved. Click through to read the New York Times review of Re Jane.

21st-century Jane is an orphan who just had a sweet job offer rescinded due to the bad economy. Now she’s stuck working for her uncle at his grocery store, and his whole family is getting on her nerves. Because she’s honhyol (only half Korean), she gets a lot of flak–and pity–from both her family and the local Korean community. Fed up with having to be on her best behavior all the time (a strict code of respect called nunchi), Jane takes a job as a live-in au pair with the Mazer-Farleys, a pair of college professors in Brooklyn.

Jane and Ed Farley develop feelings for each other much in the way that Jane #1 and her Mr. Rochester do: slowly and awkwardly. But then the narrative takes an unexpected turn, sending present-day Jane off on a literal voyage of self-discovery. The more she learns about Korean culture, her family, and herself, the more Jane comes to realize that she’s going to have to take charge of her own destiny if she wants her life to have a happy ending.

Click through to read an excerpt of the novel and listen to an interview with Park on WBUR.

Click through to read an excerpt of the novel and listen to an interview with Park on WBUR.

When the world is full of unread books to consider, and your TBR list takes up multiple bookshelves, it’s a pleasure when such a terrific piece of literary fiction finally makes its way to the top of that list. Re Jane is a thoughtful exploration of a woman’s life that’s grounded in an obvious respect for, and careful study of, the text that inspired it. It’s difficult to discuss more of the plot without giving away a major spoiler; No matter where in the world Jane happens to be, though, her tone remains true to Bronte: although the language is contemporary, it’s not hard to imagine the original Jane having the same kind of thoughts and feelings, and going through similar internal struggles with belonging and self-image. A little moody and melancholy, but at the same time, focused and determined. I was so captivated that I’m probably going to grab an audio version, too, so I can hear how the narrative voice I imagined plays out in a recording.

If you find re-examinations of classic themes as fascinating as I do, you should definitely check out Re Jane in your format of choice. Have you read Jane Eyre or Wide Sargasso Sea? How do you feel, in general, about modern twists on classic lit? The floor is yours in the comments section.

–Leigh Anne


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10 responses to “Reader, She Nailed It

  1. Sounds really interesting – might have to go on to my (extensively/scarily long) TBR list too. :)

  2. Reblogged this on vigilante publications and commented:
    A review of Patricia Park’s “Re Jane”, a retelling of “Jane Eyre” if Jane were a 21st century Korean-American woman.

  3. Ani

    I love retellings of old stories. Ones I have liked recently include And Laughter Fell from the Sky (House of Mirth), Jyotsna Srinavasan, and Of Metal and Wishes (Phantom of the Opera), Sarah Fine. Thanks for the review. This might get me reading fiction again after a long break.

    • You’re so welcome, Ani! And thank YOU for mentioning And Laughter Fell From the Sky – I hadn’t heard of it, and I love Edith Wharton something fierce, so I can’t wait to read Srinavasan’s take on it. I didn’t get far enough into Of Metal and Wishes before I had to give it back, so I’ll have to pick that one up again, too.

      Please report back on Jane if you do use it to start up your fiction reading! We’d love to know!

      Leigh Anne

  4. Call me Cordelia

    I’m fascinated! I love “Jane Eyre” and think I will try to get this book ASAP.

  5. Pingback: August 2015 Recap | Eleventh Stack

  6. I saw her on a panel in Winston-Salem, and she is an engaging powerhouse — so authentic – a delight to see — makes me want to read this book!

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