By Patricia Park
Author’s website: www.patriciapark.com
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Una
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.
Although I didn’t really see the Jayne Eyre connection I enjoyed this story. Jayne thinks she was the child of an American GI and her Korean mother. Both her parents died tragically and Jayne is sent to live with her uncle in America. Growing up she feels different and not part of either culture. Her uncle is strict and puts high emphasis on schooling and cultural politeness. After her job in finance falls through Jayne is forced to work in her Uncle’s store. Desperation drives her to au pair with the Mazer-Farleys. Beth Farley introduces Jayne to feminist theory and organic eating and Ed provides flirtation and a sense of love Jayne has never experienced. Their daughter Devon who is 10, is Chinese –American and finds a similarity between her situation and Jayne’s. They just don’t fit in.
When her grandfather dies Jayne heads off to Korea on the day of 9/11. There she discovers her past and slowly begins to make a life of her own. Korea proves to be not perfect either and Jayne finally returns to the US to see if a promised relationship with the man of her dreams will work.
The whole book concentrates on relationships romantic, familial and platonic. It is about crossing the boundaries of culture, economic and financial means. I found that Jayne has through her adventures had to become a person in her own right and not follow the identity others had given her. I loved Jaynes Uncle Sang who at first comes across as a tyrant but near the end the reader discovers his softer side. The style of writing that Park used, with Jayne conversing the story with the reader I found personally delightful and found I could get into the scenes, emotions and settings without difficulty.
I look will definitely look out for more books by Patricia Parks.