'Jane Eyre' Retelling Swaps English Countryside For Bustling City Streets
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Patricia Park's novel "Re Jane" is a retelling of the classic "Jane Eyre." Take note of the similarities, an orphan who lives under the strict rule of her aunt and uncle - check - who later goes to work as a nanny - check - and falls in love with her employer - check. But this Jane has a twist. Author Jean Kwok picked Patricia Park's novel "Re Jane" as her weekend read because it gives her beloved "Jane Eyre" a modern makeover.
JEAN KWOK: I had read the original "Jane Eyre" when I was an immigrant child, and I was living in the slums of Brooklyn in this unheated, roach-infested apartment. I definitely identified with plain, lost, headstrong Jane. But a part of me always was aware that, you know, she was a character from a different world. But I didn't expect anything else, you know? So nowadays, that has changed. And I was just delighted when I came across Patricia Park's book. And what I love about it is I think Park uses the story really well to explore issues of race, identity and class, which are so fitting and also the same issues that I care about in my own work and in my own books.
MARTIN: Can you walk through how Jane, as revisited in this novel by Patricia Park, how is she similar to Jane Eyre, and how is she different?
KWOK: Like our original Jane Eyre, you know, she's a solitary. She is thoughtful. She's intelligent. But Jane Re, partly because of her mixed race status, she doesn't fully belong anywhere. She doesn't belong with the Koreans. She doesn't belong with the mainstream Americans, and I think Park actually describes her really well in this passage from the book which I'd like to read to you.
MARTIN: Yeah, please.
KWOK: This is talking about Jane when she's out with a bunch of friends.
(Reading) I'd always end up with a drunk bozo who'd made it clear he was taking one for the team by talking to me. I never knew if it was because I wasn't pretty enough, because I was too Asian, because I wasn't Asian enough or because I lacked charm. I wasn't good at the bar. I didn't know how to hold my body in any other position but ramrod straight. I didn't know how to execute a playful slap to a man's arm or toss a teasing smile over my shoulder. I possessed exactly none of the feminine wiles.
MARTIN: She has the same kind of level of introspection and self-awareness that we see in the original Jane Eyre laced with a little bit of insecurity.
KWOK: That's right.
MARTIN: How do people who really know Jane Eyre - how would they recognize the character Ed Farley in this novel?
KWOK: Well, you know, first of all, I do love the little parallels that Park kind of sprinkles through the novel with the original Bronte novel. So even the names - like you said, Ed Farley is the husband and the love interest in "Jane Re." The original was, of course, Mr. Edward Rochester. But to answer your question, Ed has weaknesses, you know, and I think the greatest of them, to me, is that he lives with and is still married to his wife. And let us not forget that much as we loved the original Mr. Rochester - and I certainly did fall in love with him - he hid his mad wife in the attic and attempted to marry Jane Eyre without her knowing that he was actually already married.
MARTIN: Yeah, he wasn't such a good guy.
KWOK: He was definitely exhibiting scoundrel-like behavior, yes.
KWOK: I have to say I love the way Park allows all of her characters to be flawed. I understand why she makes Ed less heroic than Mr. Rochester because in the original "Jane Eyre," Mr. Rochester was a really integral part of Jane's happy ending. And here in this modern context, Ed - he's a tool. He's a tool for Jane Re to find herself and thereby for her to find her own happy ending.
MARTIN: Thank you so much for talking with us. Jean Kwok, who is the author of "Mambo In Chinatown." She was talking about Patricia Park's novel "Re Jane." Jean, thanks again.
KWOK: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.