Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Review: Re Jane by Patricia Park

Title:  Re Jane: A Novel

Author: Patricia Park
Publisher: 5th May 2015 by Viking Adult (Penguin Group)
Pages: 352 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: ficiton; contemporary, cultural – Asian literature
My Rating:  three cups


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.

My thoughts

When I saw this book, the contemporary retelling of ‘Jane Eyre’ intrigued me. I will get to that in a moment. What this story is in fact about is a young Korean/American girl trying to find her way in life based on her roots, her family and cultural expectations in modern day America and then Korea. This is the key concept that should have been addressed, because the whole ‘Jane Eyre’ connection fell really flat with me. The ‘Jane Eyre’ name-dropping - even Currer Bell - not to mention the ‘Friends’ (TV sitcom) links with Chandler, Monica and Rachel, would have been better left out. To have linked this book with Bronte’s was a mistake in my humble opinion. The links were weak at best and truthfully speaking, this book would be better standing on it’s own. ‘Jane Eyre’ is a classic full of heartache and angst and being forced to compare ‘Re Jane’ well, it just does not measure up. Always viewing it in the shadow of such a classic was bound to be detrimental.

I had a lot of trouble with the love interest in this book. In fact, many of the characters were stereotypical, bordering on caricatures. However, the main character lacks depth, and for this reason the love interest Jane has with Ed seems really superficial. Nothing is really dealt with in enough detail for us to have compassion for some characters, therefore you end up with the impression that the feelings are somewhat contrived – you just don’t believe it:

“I don’t know how I’ll make it through the week …. without you, I added silently”.

It would have been far more favourable if presented as a coming of age tale against a strong cultural backdrop. That should have been the draw card. This could have been a refreshing read in its own right. The challenges Jane faces – cultural, growing up, finding work, romance – were all there.  Not to mention, it’s a fabulous window into Korean culture and society - the Seoul/New York comparisons were worthy. In my opinion the crux of this story should have revolved around the whole parental issue with a greater understanding highlighted, and given to, Jane’s ‘mystery’ father.

“I couldn’t force something that wasn’t there. There comes a time where you just got to be who you want to be.”

All up, it’s a shame because although loose ends are all so conveniently tied up, there was a solid thread throughout. The focus should have been on Jane and her journey of self discovery – that being, an exploration of her heritage, where she came from, trying to bridge the divide of living as part of two cultures and reconciling this all with her own identity development.

“It was tiring, straddling the two cultures.”

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

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