Charlotte Brontë makes her way to 21st-century New York City by way of Korea in this latest spin on Jane Eyre from first-time author Patricia Park. The title character is Jane Re, “a honhyol, a mixed-blood,” with a Korean mother and American father. As if the “Koreanish” Jane (as she describes herself) does not already feel like an outsider, her parents die, and she is shipped off to live with her gruff uncle in Flushing, Queens—an enclave that is “all Korean, all the time,” and where “your personal business was communal property.”
Re Jane is breezy and accessible, at its best when portraying Jane’s haplessness and frustration. “I traveled nearly seven thousand miles across the globe to escape societal censure only to end up in the second-largest Korean community in the Western World,” she says wryly of her childhood move to the U.S.
The Jane Eyre connection here is substantial (a key character even shares the pen name under which Brontë published her masterpiece), though not slavish, which makes sense given that Park’s interest in feminism goes beyond the Women’s Studies professor who plays an important role in the book.
Jane’s Rochester is an unhappily married Irish-Italian Brooklyn native who must also contend with a surly young daughter, although he moves a little more quickly than Brontë’s brooding hunk. Readers may differ on the ultimate plausibility of his relationship with our heroine, and occasionally Park’s chatty tone becomes flat or needlessly melodramatic. Nevertheless, Park offers real insight into assimilationist struggles in comments such as “Immigrant households did not talk about Derrida or The New York Review of Books. Conversation was a luxury, rendered in broken fits and starts.”
Some of Re Jane’s most intriguing sections unfold during an impulsive post-9/11 return to Seoul, where Jane lands a job teaching English, and where she must make a major decision about her love life, thus adding yet another layer of confusion to her sense of cultural conflict.
None of the conflicts here are resolved in particularly shocking ways, but Park’s portrait of Korean-American life feels authentic and is ultimately endearing. Charlotte Brontë would be proud.