Park portrays Korean American experience with touches of Jane Eyre

Soyon Im May 8, 2017 0

Much has been said about Re Jane, Patricia Park’s enjoyable first novel, as being a Korean American retelling of Jane Eyre.

There are a few similarities—the main characters in both books are orphans and as adults, they become nannies, entering households that introduce them to a different class of people. The year is 2000, and Jane Re, who finds herself unemployed after graduating from college, is desperate to escape the clutches of her aunt and uncle, their cramped produce store, and the gossipy community church, where everyone seems to pity her for not having real parents or a real job. “In Flushing your personal business was communal property,” writes Park.

While her best friend Eunice takes off for a job at Google, Jane steps beneath her expectations and resorts to working as a nanny. The work transports her from the immigrant culture of Flushing to a hyper-PC academic, feminist household in Brooklyn, where sugar, beef and non-organic produce are forbidden. Beth Mazer, the professorial, no-make-up-wearing matron of the household isn’t a horrible boss, but her overly good intentions and frequent bouts of feminist whitesplaining border on suffocating.

That the narrator doesn’t make more fun of this situation seems like a missed opportunity, but Jane is earnest and tries to please her new boss while disliking her. She is also more often awkward than con dent and doesn’t realize how attractive she can be to others. At times, Beth’s seven-year-old adopted Chinese daughter, Devon, seems to possess more confidence than Jane.

Overall, the book is an enjoyable read, especially later as it takes us into yet another setting—that of Seoul, Korea—where Jane traces her family roots. The plot moves with the desires and self-questioning thoughts of a young woman. Jane makes mistakes, but you often admire her for not being afraid to try new things and live life in a vulnerable, uncertain place.

Patricia Park appears on Thursday, May 11 at 7:30pm with fellow writer Sunil Yapa as part of the “Sherman Alexie Loves” series as sponsored by Seattle Arts & Lectures at Town Hall Seattle.

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