To the uninitiated, Charlotte Bronte’s classic Victorian novel Jane Eyre, is about a young woman who overcomes adverse circumstances by trusting herself and her instincts to define her own happiness. As a reader, especially with a book that was initially published in another era, you know it’s something special when initial reviews were not kind.
Writer Patricia Park has taken Jane Eyre out of rural Victorian England and into modern day New York and Seoul with Re Jane: A Novel. Jane Re is half Korean, half American. Her American father is dead and unknown to her. Her Korean mother is also dead, Jane has been raised by her strict Uncle and his family. She starts off the novel by working at his grocery store and feels unappreciated.
When Jane gets the change to be the nanny for a couple of professors in Brooklyn, she jumps at the chance. Beth Mazur and Ed Farley adopted their daughter Devon from China and need a nanny. Jane does not know that Devon will be the easy part of this job. Beth is teaching her daughter and Jane about feminism while Ed starts to see Jane as more than his employee. Then a family tragedy pulls Jane to Korea. When Jane returns to New York, she and Ed hope to pickup from where they left off, but something is in the way. Will Jane follow the traditional route or will she blaze her own path?
I liked this book, for several reasons. First is that Ms. Park remains true to the source material. While some elements have been altered to reflect the modern time and culture, other elements are as they exist in the Jane Eyre. The second is that any New Yorker will recognize the neighborhoods in the novel. Whether it is the heavily Asian Flushing or the pretentious intelligentsia that move into Cobble Hill and Park Slope, Ms. Park keeps the novel true to the city that her character is raised in.
I absolutely recommend it and I hope that Charlotte Bronte would be proud that her novel is still being talked about and adapted a century and a half after it’s initial publication.