January 17, 2013

An Austen Adventure

All Roads Lead to Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smith

Release Date: June 2012
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Pages: 384 pages
Source & Format: Bought; Paperback
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Amazon)
With a suitcase full of Jane Austen novels en español, Amy Elizabeth Smith set off on a yearlong Latin American adventure: a traveling book club 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.

Whether sharing rooster beer with Guatemalans, joining the crowd at a Mexican boxing match, feeding a horde of tame iguanas with Ecuadorean children, or tangling with argumentative booksellers in Argentina, Amy came to learn what Austen knew all along: that 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.

Thoughts on All Roads Lead to Austen
Travelogue + Memoir + Austen essay = All Roads Lead to Austen.

A literature professor, Amy Elizabeth Smith became intrigued by the idea of studying Austen in other cultures. She noted that her students reacted to Austen's works in a way that was completely unlike their experience with books by other authors. They'd speak of being an Emma, meeting a Darcy, knowing a Wickham... their reactions were personal. They'd analyze the Brontes, but they'd become invested in Austen.

Watching her students, she knew that she wanted to study how Austen would translate in Spanish-speaking countries. She then sets up reading groups with the locals in six Latin American countries, each with the purpose of discussing a selected Austen novel. She wants to know how these men and women will react to such a difference culture.

Smith spends time discussing what she does in each country, as well as how each reading group reacts to the work they've read. I found it interesting to see how they responded to Austen, and I honestly wish Smith had just focused on her reading groups. The Austen discussions was mostly very surface-level, and the dialogue seemed a bit juvenile. I think the fact that she wasn't really a Spanish-speaker likely hindered the discussions, as did the fact that a number of her reading group participants didn't completely read the book in question.

There was a lot of time spent talking about her own personal experiences, and those sections started to grate on my nerves. I think the challenge with writing a memoir is that it's really easy for the focus on yourself and your experiences to start to seem really self-centered. Unfortunately, this book kind of suffers from that. There's a bit of whining and self-centeredness that dragged the book down a bit. I didn't pick this up to read about her adventures - I chose it to read about how Latin American readers would react to Austen. And I really wanted more of that and less of her personal opinions, actions and relationships.

Also, don't read this book is you're not familiar with Austen but plan to read her work - this does spoil the endings. I'd assume that you can't really spoil books that are 200 years old, but you never know...

For literary commentary, look elsewhere. If you like travel memoirs and want some Austen thrown in, you'll probably enjoy this trip to the Latin America.

So Quotable
"Brontë World is to be viewed and enjoyed at a distance, but Austenland is a place where people feel inclined to get cozy with the locals..."

8 comments:

  1. Sounds like a pass for me. I need to read the stories first before she ruins them plus that whining would get to me. Thanks for your review. This was on my list for awhile, I tried it, and didn't dig it. It was nice reading your review and seeing your thoughts on it.

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    1. Glad I helped you make a decision on it! This was one of those books that was hard to review because I enjoyed certain parts but also couldn't really get past other parts. Makes me feel better that you didn't really dig it when you tried it either!

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  2. I've always wanted to be an Austen-ite but am not (yet - remember I'm audiobooking hard-to-get-thru-for-me classics this year). My point is this: I actually don't know the Austen endings! I'm a total newbie! To go a bit further, I had looked at this one but will actually decline to read it now since it does potentially spoil Austen books that I haven't read yet. Thanks for that heads-up!

    I do love this idea, though.

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    1. I LOVE that you don't know any Austen endings! I'm seriously so impressed with your ability to keep yourself spoiler-free, even from the classics. You're like a ninja when it comes to avoiding spoilers!

      Glad that heads-up helped you :)

      And I will seriously convert you into a Janeite and bring you over to the dark side! Haha! So excited about all the awesome you've got ahead of you!

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  3. This sounds incredibly interesting, I love the idea of seeing how people from different cultures react to the same impactful literature! Especially as an Austen lover. I'm with you though, I hate when memoirs start to seem self-indulgent--it's actually the biggest thing that keeps me away from them!

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    1. It was really interesting in parts - and I loved the concept - but it was certainly disappointing at times. I wanted to adore this, especially since it's about Austen, but really wished she'd steered away from some of the life story stuff. I'd probably recommend it as a library read. Interesting to read but not necessarily a must buy. Keep me updated if you do end up reading it at some point!

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  4. I really like Jane Austen, I just re-listened to Pride And Prejudice and watched the 1995 film version. So, yeah it sounds really disappointing that this book meanders into whining life territory. I think though, if you want to see how Austen holds up in other cultures, Reading Lolita In Tehran has a part with Austen, but I could be wrong. I have not read it yet.

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    1. Yay for re-listening to Pride and Prejudice - love that so much :) And I need to re-watch the 1995 film soon. It's just so good (and so long!).

      I think the difficult thing about memoirs is that it's so easy for them to veer into whiny territory. It's hard to balance the whole "me" focus without seeming completely self-absorbed.

      I've picked up Reading Lolita in Tehran book while browsing in a bookstore. I think I'll need to take another look at it - I'd love to read about classic literature in any culture. So interesting!

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