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Thursday, April 12, 2012

All Roads Lead to Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smith

All Roads Lead to Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smith
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full length (366 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Is the magic of Jane a moveable feast?

Jane Austen thrives in the 21st century, living on in book clubs, in conversations, in quiet reads with a cup of coffee.

She is unchanged by time. But is she unchanged by place? Does Austen still work magic in new time zones, new countries, new languages?

Amy Elizabeth Smith wanted to find out. With a suitcase full of Austen novels en español, Smith set off on a yearlong Latin American road trip with Jane. In six unique, unforgettable countries, she gathered book-loving new friends—taxi drivers and teachers, poets and politicians—to read Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice. On the road, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times (no, wait, that’s Dickens...).Whether sharing rooster beer with Guatemalans, joining the crowd at a Mexican boxing match, feeding a horde of tame iguanas with Ecuadorean children, or wrangling argumentative booksellers in Argentina, Amy came to learn what Austen knew all along: we’re not always speaking the same language, even when we’re speaking the same language. But with true Austen instinct she could recognize when, unexpectedly, she’d found her own Señor Darcy. All Roads Lead to Austen celebrates the wisdom (and pleasure!) of of letting go and becoming a student again, no matter what our age.

This non-fiction story is quite an entertaining bit of adventure. Fans of Jane Austen are likely to find it highly enjoyable.

The author, Amy Elizabeth Smith, is a professor at a California university, and she teaches Jane Austen’s work. Armed with several of J.A.’s novels, Ms Smith goes to Latin America to discover the answer to intriguing questions: Is Jane Austen’s work appreciated in the Spanish-speaking world? Do her stories and characters have universal appeal? For example, could Pride and Prejudice be set in Mexico...etc?

Ms. Smith has a boyfriend that she stays with in Mexico, so there is a little romance in this book, but the focus is on the literary and cultural adventure. Questions come up. He wants her to stay in Mexico, but she has a terrific job in California. Also, later in the book, she meets an intriguing man in Argentina. Who is her “Mr. Darcy?”

There are great insights into other cultures. Some wonderful questions pop up when Ms. Smith holds her reading groups with readers of the countries she visits (having given the readers Spanish translations of Jane Austen’s work). Some of the ladies in one country bring up the subject of gender inequality. It seems they can relate to the novel and believe it could be set in their country. In some ways, people from Latin cultures can relate better to Austin’s time than citizens of the United States can, like with women’s place in society. These readers offer new and colorful insights about J.A.’s work. There are male readers too. Their perspective adds a nice touch to the groups’ opinions. It’s all very thought provoking. The J.A. novels bring up such important things as parental/child relationships, among many other things.

Ms. Smith catches a mysterious tropical disease during her travels but carries on. Two doctors can’t figure out what she has, and it’s alarming. The suspense is written well. She finally visits a doctor with answers, and it affects the rest of her journey.

On to more countries, and the reader is treated to an inside look and many great descriptions of these places. More questions provide food for thought, like those involving honor and other deep subjects the Spanish readers bring up while reading Jane Austen.

The reader is treated to the names of famous authors from each of the countries visited. Also, there are dashes of humor. The North American readers gets a peek into how people from some of these countries view people in their neighboring countries. Even some jokes are given.

All this talk of literature brought out so many universal concepts to think about while contrasting cultural perspectives add educational interest. Mix that with the humor, the wonderful descriptions, engaging real-life characters, the mysterious disease, the romance and more, and this book makes for an excellent travel adventure. Hopefully this author will go to other countries and write another book. She has a real talent for making non-fiction fast-paced and fun.