Tag Archives: Korea

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21st-century Jane is an orphan who just had a sweet job offer rescinded due to the bad economy.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


Filed under Uncategorized

For Love and Science: Korean Barbecue

I’m no Iron Chef, but I’m no slouch in the kitchen either.  So when D., my boyfriend, challenged me to replicate the Korean barbecue he’d eaten at Green Pepper, I rose to the occasion.  The fact that I hadn’t cooked meat in seven years (and wouldn’t be eating any of it myself) didn’t faze me for a second; cooking is an art, to be sure, but it’s also a science.  If you follow instructions closely, you will usually get a recipe right the first time.  Then you can start playing with it, tweaking spices and ingredients, etc.  Easy peasy.

[I’ll spare you the long, internal ethical debate I had with myself, as well as the guilt I felt about cooking meat, even after sincerely blessing the spirit of the cow that died for D.’s dinner.  The things we do for love and science, eh?]

In a perfect world, I would’ve been able to take a class, or hang out in an experienced cook’s kitchen to learn first-hand.  But with a deadline of one week, I would have to rely on my reference librarian skills and prior kitchen experience, and hope for the best.  Luckily, copious searching of both catalog and web turned up a wealth of information that was tons of fun to winnow through in search of the perfect galbi recipe.*  And by “perfect” I mean, of course, something from a source as close to authentic as I could find without actually boarding a plane to Seoul.

Eating KoreanRequesting items from other libraries would take more time than I had, so just this once I decided to stick close to home.** There were fourteen Korean cookbooks on the shelf, and I flipped through all of them, comparing and contrasting ingredients and techniques.  The one I eventually took home, however, was Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee’s Eating Korean. I chose it because it contains just as many essays as recipes, making it more of a cooking memoir than a conventional cookbook. Reading about Lee’s childhood and culinary adventures in Korea gave me a context I would never have been able to acquire simply by looking at a recipe;  her stories about making kimchi, learning to fish, picnicking in the park, and other adventures both simple and ceremonial helped me understand and appreciate the richness and complexity of Korean culture.

The most disturbing and fascinating story for me was the tale of the day Lee first killed a chicken, which concludes like this:

Our meal was a simple country one with a few side dishes, rice, and the starting main course of chicken.  I was as proud as a hunter who’d bagged a bear that morning, acting as if I had made the whole meal, while everyone raved about the delicious meat. As I enjoyed lunch, I almost forgot the insurmountable fear in my being as I faced the brown bird and the feeling of deep sadness as I watched the life leaving its body. I now had a deeper respect for the animals that had given their lives so that we could enjoy a wonderful meal. (174)

A conscious omnivore with a simple galbi recipe that called for ingredients I could easily find at both conventional and Korean grocers? Here was a cookbook I could definitely learn from.  Besides the sections on beef, chicken and fish, there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options in the side dishes, or mit banchan, such as roasted seaweed sheets, simmered tofu, soy-seasoned potatoes, and seasoned black beans. If you’re looking to expand your culinary repetoire, you’ll find many dishes here to please all palates.

The verdict?  Aside from using more soy sauce than the restaurant did, my galbi efforts were pronounced successful.  Thanks Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee!  As for me, I ate Gardein beefless tips, and loved them. While I won’t be apologizing to cows or killing chickens anytime soon, I had a blast learning about Korean cuisine and culture and actively exploring my own beliefs and limits.  And, as ever, I enjoyed preparing food for somebody I care about and want to please.  Because, at the end of the day, whatever we decide to cook and eat, we all hunger for the same thing:  love.

Leigh Anne

(who is still up for that cooking lesson, if anybody’s offering)

*Galbi, sometimes transliterated kalbi, is different from bulgogi, another flame-broiled Korean specialty.

** Expanding your search countywide gives you more options, which I plan to explore ASAP.


Filed under Uncategorized

The lengths people will go to…

On a normal work day for me, the title of my post would likely refer to the many stories I hear each day from library patrons (well-meaning and otherwise) who have problems with their accounts: the reason they couldn’t return a book on time, or why they couldn’t pay a fine, or how the dog chewed a book, but it wasn’t their fault. Yes, the lengths to which people will go to avoid…well, you know…amaze me.

But not today.

No, today is a celebration of our patrons who go the extra mile on behalf of the library, the people who cherish the library and its collection, and the lengths to which they will go.

What prompted this change of view? It began with a wonderful little package waiting in my mailbox two weeks ago. It was wrapped in simple brown paper, hand-addressed in pen, and stamped with a modest airmail stamp…and a postmark from Korea.

Yes, Korea. One of our patrons had taken the time to mail back a Prokofiev symphony score. From Korea. A week early.

It's true!

It's true!


Can you believe it?

This reminded me of the books I’d received the week before that, from Hawaii, with a note from a student’s mom: “Sorry that my daughter accidentally brought these books home with her.” So far in the past month we’ve received items back from Michigan, Maine, State College, Erie, New Orleans, and–drum roll please–this week’s winner, China: another mom with books that her son, who was visiting China, mailed home. Yes, the books were late–but she did bring us the postmarked box as proof!

We also received a book mailed to us by an airline this week. Over the years we’ve had our share of packages from airlines as well as from rental car agencies and the United States Postal Service. Every time one of these parcels shows up at our door, my faith is restored. Someone cares. Someone understands that the library works only when we all work together, that what you borrow and return has an impact on what another person is able to borrow and return. It’s part of the great social contract.

So here are some thank-yous to people who have saved the library for me.

  • To the father who handed over his charge card to pay off several hundred dollars on his high school daughter’s card, even though the lost books were due to her allowing a friend to use the card.
  • To the person who found a young boy’s wallet with his library card and turned it in at Phipps Conservatory, as well as to the Phipps staff who e-mailed us so we could contact the cardholder.
  • To the stranger who came to the desk to make restitution for books he had stolen long ago–he handed over a $200 donation and left without revealing his name.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s not about the individual book, CD, or DVD. Things will be lost, damaged, and spilled on. Things will be late. That’s okay. But each time you pay for that item, or accept responsibility for a fine, or return something long overdue, what you’re doing is more than just a simple physical or financial exchange.

What you’re saying is that YOU are a part of the library…that we are all in this together…that you share in both the joy and the responsibility of this great democratic institution that gives equal opportunities for learning, entertainment and wonder to us all…and that you do it willingly. And each time one of you does it with grace, or kindness, or enthusiasm (well, okay, nobody pays fines enthusiastically), you are affirming your connection to the library and all of its members.

So, thanks to all who “get it”! You often save the day!



Filed under Uncategorized