Tag Archives: queens

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21st-century Jane is an orphan who just had a sweet job offer rescinded due to the bad economy.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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I tend to prefer stories told from the female point of view, definitely in fiction but often in non-fiction as well. As a woman, I can relate better to other women than to men. Besides, I have always felt that women don’t always get to tell their side of the story. Now is their chance.

The following books–the sixth post in my on-going series of historical non-fiction books–are all about women in history; a lot of it isn’t pretty and some of it is sad. But it’s herstory.

 The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir. Catharine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard, Katharine Parr. “Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived.”  I once worked with another librarian who was obsessed* with all things Tudor. They have enjoyed a revival of sorts but I think the world has been intrigued by this era all along. After rejecting Antonia Fraser’s (I didn’t like the writing style) and David Starkey’s (a little biased I felt) books, I finally chose what I believed to be the best introduction to the subject for me. There are many others, of course, but I liked Weir’s balanced and elegant narrative backed up by extensive research. She also just tells a really good story.  Each wife’s experience is both poignant and powerful; you just can’t make this stuff up!

Source: Pocahontas County Fare

Death and the Maidens: Fanny Wollstonecraft and the Shelley Circle by Janet Todd. The English major in me is forever enchanted by the history and literature of late 18th/early 19th century England. This is the little-known story of poor Fanny Imlay, half sister of Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein), illegitimate daughter of feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft, step-daughter of philosopher William Godwin, and unrequited lover of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Fanny was always on the periphery surrounded by her family’s difficult relationships and romantic turbulence. This is her story, from her unconventional childhood and the unwelcome discovery of her illegitimate birth to the conflicting emotional tug-of-war within her adopted family as well as the emotional triangle of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, and her step-sister Claire Clairmont (lover of poet Lord Byron). Fanny was the innocent bystander among people of unconventional ways; she felt like she never fit in.

Source: Wikipedia

Hadley: the First Mrs. Hemingway by Alice Sokoloff. I feel sorry for all of the Hemingway women, but never more so than for his first wife. Older than her husband by eight years, plain-looking and soft spoken, Hadley just wanted a husband who would love her and give her a home and family. But it wasn’t enough for her ambitious, trying-to-find-success husband. If you enjoy this, you might also want to check out the wonderfully-inspired novel by Paula McLain, The Paris Wife, reviewed excellently here.

 Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation by Cokie Roberts. I truly enjoyed this look at the women who were part of the founding of our country as we know it today. Roberts highlights the fascinating and colorful lives of independent-minded women such as Eliza Pinckney, Abigail Adams, and Martha Washington, among others. A must-read for history buffs.

First Ladies Fact Book: The Stories of the Women of the White House from Martha Washington to Laura Bush by Bill Harris. Not an inspired title in the least, but this book is actually very well written and concise. What I appreciated most was learning about the unknown (or little known) first ladies such as Grace Coolidge and Jane Pierce. Of course, such a grand book is bound to make you all confused as to remembering who’s who. But it’s still fun reading.


*We all have our specialities; mine is Jane Austen.



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