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.
21st-century Jane is an orphan who just had a sweet job offer rescinded due to the bad economy.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.
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.