Re Jane: A Novel, Patricia Park
Publication: May 5th 2015 by Pamela Dorman Books
Hardcover, 352 pages
Source: ARC from ALA MW Meeting
Journeying from Queens to Brooklyn to Seoul, and back, this is a fresh, contemporary retelling of Jane Eyre and a poignant Korean American debut
For Jane Re, half-Korean, half-American orphan, Flushing, Queens, is the place she’s been trying to escape from her whole life. Sardonic yet vulnerable, Jane toils, unappreciated, in her strict uncle’s grocery store and politely observes the traditional principle of nunchi (a combination of good manners, hierarchy, and obligation). Desperate for a new life, she’s thrilled to become the au pair for the Mazer-Farleys, two Brooklyn English professors and their adopted Chinese daughter. Inducted into the world of organic food co-ops, and nineteenth–century novels, Jane is the recipient of Beth Mazer’s feminist lectures and Ed Farley’s very male attention. But when a family death interrupts Jane and Ed’s blossoming affair, she flies off to Seoul, leaving New York far behind.
Reconnecting with family, and struggling to learn the ways of modern-day Korea, Jane begins to wonder if Ed Farley is really the man for her. Jane returns to Queens, where she must find a balance between two cultures and accept who she really is. Re Jane is a bright, comic story of falling in love, finding strength, and living not just out of obligation to others, but for one’s self.
I’ll just say I loved Jane Re. I also love Jane Eyre so I went into this book with high hopes. Jane Re lives in pre-9/11 Queens with her maternal Uncle and his family. She works at “Food”, her uncle’s small grocery and mainly interacts with the same Korean immigrant community she’s known all her life. Jane feels she‘s constantly other– she’s a niece not a daughter, she’s not Korean “enough” for the residents in her neighborhood, and she choose the wrong college to attend. When her promised job in the financial market disappears Jane interviews to nanny for the Mazer-Farley family. Their daughter Devon was adopted from China as an infant and as her friend puts it “Their daughter’s Asian, you’re also Asian…-ish.” A surprise to Jane, she and Devon quickly bond.
Jane feels as though she’s an important part of the Mazer-Farley family, something she’s not experienced before. She’s encouraged to question Beth and Ed and to give her own opinions. Jane’s new behaviors do not endear her employers to her uncle who orders her to return home when her grandfather visits from Korea. This is the same grandfather who would have let Jane go to an orphanage when her mother died, so she’s understandably resentful. As Jane is opening herself to this new lifestyle she also realizes she’s developing feelings for Ed – and that he is also falling for her. This made me a bit uncomfortable with Jane and Ed both I’ll admit. I don’t enjoy reading about infidelity as a rule, and while this was not as blatant as Hausfrau, it was quite a betrayal. This was very different than Jane Eyre and her innocence of Bertha Rochester’s very existence. From here, Jane’s story broadened from that of her namesake.
Just as the affair is about to take off, Jane learns her grandfather has died. She leaves for Korea where she sees a whole new world that she could learn to fit into. Jane also finds a loving aunt that she had no memories of. Jane decides to stay and begins teaching English to Korean adult students. One of my favorite things was that Jane’s new Korean friends adopt the names of Monica, Rachel and Chandler. I loved the mix of the Korean culture with the late 90’s American life. At some point, Jane realizes she needs to make a choice- does she belong in Korea or in New York? Park uses Korean expressions throughout the book and they kind of exemplified Jane’s very crisis to me– she had Korean feelings in an American lifestyle.
In the end I thought Re Jane became much richer than the classic it was based on. I loved Jane’s determination to make things right- even when I felt myself cringing away from the book at her efforts. This was a book of self-discovery and I loved who Jane becomes. This was a book about immigration, culture and education and a young woman who finds much more than her love story.
Thank you Pamela Dorman Books for this advance copy.