Books, Reviews

REVIEW | A Korean-American Retelling of Jane Eyre Falls Flat

REVIEW | A Korean-American Retelling of Jane Eyre Falls FlatRe Jane by Patricia Park
Published by Pamela Dorman Books on May 5th 2015
Genre: Contemporary
352 pages
Goodreads page

Summary from Goodreads:

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.

Oh man, I really wanted to like this book: not only am I half-Asian like the book’s protagonist, but I’m also a pretty big fan of Jane Eyre. Patricia Park does a wonderful job of portraying the awkward cultural space inhabited by many people of mixed race. Unfortunately, too many things in this book just didn’t work for me.

Missing fundamental parts of Jane Eyre’s personality

One of the things I love about Jane Eyre is her strong sense of right and wrong, which is a fundamental part of her personality. Now, I’m perfectly aware that Eyre’s Victorian sensibilities don’t translate to early 21st-century New York – but the actions of her Korean-American counterpart make it impossible for me to see the two characters as related.

Jane Eyre fell in love with an employer she believed to be a bachelor. When she discovered that he was, in fact, married, she miserably removed herself from the situation.

In contrast: Jane Re intentionally sleeps with a married man, betraying his well-meaning wife and destabilizing the life of his young daughter. She knows that this is a terrible, destructive thing to do, but she does it anyway. It’s pretty hard for me to stay sympathetic to Jane after this kind of betrayal.

References don’t feel “earned”

Too often, it felt like something had been placed in the story solely as a nod to Bronte, rather than flowing naturally from the plot. Ed Farley (Rochester’s NYC alter-ego) was briefly grumpy with Jane Re, but he got over it pretty fast. Their interaction was nowhere as turbulent or fascinating as Rochester’s slow courtship of Jane Eyre – and, in fact, Ed Farley’s brief grumpiness didn’t seem to have much of an effect on their romance at all.

Also, the narrator peppers her thoughts with “Reader” this and “Dear Reader,” that: obvious references to famous Brontean lines like “Reader, I married him.” This kind of aside makes sense in Jane Eyre since it was written as a pretend autobiography, but Re Jane makes no such claim – so what reader is Jane Re supposed to be talking to? Is she writing down her experiences as a memoir, or just silently reminiscing to herself? It’s never, ever explained.

While it’s fun to be able to pick out all the references to Jane Eyre, this novel leans too heavily on its predecessor to stand on its own.

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  • Reply Claire November 2, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    I really want to like this book too! I’m biracial and very interested in how authors speak about this experience in such a multicultural society and day and age. I’m a bit disappointed that it fell flat for you… what do you think, is it worth a read? Should I get Nikki to read it as well?
    Claire recently posted…Bitches Book Club Review: The Icarus GirlMy Profile

    • Paloma
      Reply Paloma November 2, 2015 at 11:00 pm

      I probably would have rated this book lower, but I’ve got a soft spot for the subject material, y’know?
      Your and Nikki’s miles may vary, of course! Give it a shot if you think it sounds good.

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