Re Jane by Patricia Park
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Published: May 2015
Genre: adult fiction, contemporary
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.
Jane Re has been told her entire life that she’s, essentially, not enough. She’s not Korean enough, American enough, intelligent enough, pretty enough. Desperate to escape her uncle oppressive household, she takes on a nannying position in Brooklyn for two English professors and their Chinese daughter. As the year rolls by, Jane begins to find a solid rooting with the family, but Ed, her boss’s husband, is beginning to cross the line. When her grandfather dies, Jane seizes the opportunity to fly to Seoul and attempt a new life there, immersing herself in modern-day Korean culture. Once again, circumstances change for her, and it’s time for her to decide how to continue her biracial, bicultural life and accept her wholly, complete self.
I seem to be on a roll with finding great contemporary retellings of favorite classics. As I’ve said before, I’m very wary of retellings because many times they just rely too heavily on the original to be able to stand on their own. Since Jane Eyre is my favorite book, I am extra critical of all the retellings I’ve seen out there. But, like Eligible, Re Jane successfully stands on its own — and then some.
The parallels between the two books are excellent, and the deviations from the classic are original, compelling, and authentic to this Jane’s story. I think my favorite aspect of the book was getting to experience Jane’s biracial, bicultural dilemma so intimately. The cultural awareness and sensitivity was spot on, and I hope to see more phenomenally written books like this in the market.
I was caught in no-man’s land — the gulf between English and Korean
felt wider than the East River and the Han combined.
In a non-spoilery nutshell, Jane experiences vastly different Otherness depending on her surroundings. In Flushing, Queens, she’s singled out as the “fake Korean” because her father was American. Her physical features are slightly different from the other Koreans in her neighborhood, and she’s treated as if she’s tainted or corrupt. When she works in Brooklyn, her boss Beth accidentally assumes Jane is Chinese, yet Jane and Devon (the girl she nannies) can easily see the racial differences between each other. (Devon also experiences Otherness with the other Chinese students at school, but that’s a piece of great dissection you can discover on your own!) However, when Jane jets off to Seoul, she may be teased for her archaic Korean speech, but her Otherness is praised. She carries many sought-after Western beauty features: height, nose, eyes, cheekbones. She’s been told her whole life that favoring one side of her identity is better than embracing both. Now, here she is in her mother’s homeland, being told that it’s better to be something other than fully Korean. What’s great about this is that Jane’s uncomfortable. It’s not a matter of deciding which part of her identity she should embrace over the other — it’s about understanding, loving, and combining both.
That wasn’t so much a nutshell, but it is one aspect of the book that was deeply explored. For anyone who is following the We Need Diverse Books campaign, or #ownvoices, you need to read this book.
This is not to say that it was condescending; instead he spoke with the weight of personal experience. More often than not, I was able to free-ride on the shorthand of his authority. […] But at times I wondered whether I relied too heavily on Ed’s account of things, rather than seeing for myself.
It’s not possible to talk about any Jane Eyre retelling without some mention of the Mr Rochester figure. Ed was cool, I liked Ed, I could see Jane with Ed, and not once did I ever feel uncomfortable with the thought that Ed was roughly 10-15 years older/her employer/married. Many times retellings fall flat with the romance aspect because there’s too much emphasis on the age gap. In the 1840s, the age difference was not an issue. It’s the fact he was her employer, in the beginning at least. So why do so many retellings focus on the age?
Well, thank goodness Park did not do that. She instead focused on certain aspects of age differences in relationships. Someone who is 10+ years older, who married, had a child, bought a first home, bought a first car, will definitely have more life experiences, and that’s bound to create communication issues. The drama in the relationship between Jane and Ed focused on that: how they spoke to one another, and how they interacted with other couples in their respective age groups. If you’ve read Re Jane, I love to hear your thoughts on this!
This qualifies as book 6 of 10 library books in 2016.