Interview with Re Jane author Patricia Park

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

 

[caption id="attachment_17166" align="alignright" width="283"]Re Jane Author Patricia Park See Patricia Park at Warwick’s Books
Thursday 28 April 2016, 6:30 pm
7812 Girard Avenue, La Jolla, CA 92037[/caption]

When novelist Patricia Park set out to write Re Jane, she wanted to re-write Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë’s classic. The latter’s Jane was published in Victorian 1847 and set in the Georgian era. Neither time period offered women many options other than marriage. Park’s Jane was first published in 2015, when women had a multitude of options, if not equality.

“I wanted to show what would happen if Jane was in the present day,” Park said as she was preparing for the just-released paperback edition book tour, “if my novel would end with that iconic line, ‘Reader, I married him.’”

It took Park years to figure it out as she crafted a story about contemporary Korean-American orphan Jane Re. Those years, although not as trying as Jane Eyre’s, were challenging. While Park worked, earned an MFA, researched and scribbled, her siblings’ professional careers were taking off. Park, a Korean-American herself, felt the painful comparison. But the successful publication of Re Jane changed that.

[caption id="attachment_17173" align="alignleft" width="273"]Re Jane by Patricia Park New paperback edition of Re Jane, available 19 April 2016, from Penguin Books[/caption]

“I feel like I can hold my head up a little bit higher. This novel took me almost ten years. You try to explain to people what you’re doing and you have nothing to show for yourself. It really affects your self-esteem. … [My parents] did not understand what I was doing, but once they held that physical book, they were proud of me, and that was a winning moment for me.”

The book follows Jane’s quest for identity, leading her through the psychic and emotional land mines of a post-sexual revolution era, when intimate affairs are at risk of becoming public fodder and the story’s Women’s Studies lecturer struggles for tenure. Jane’s search begins in Queens, N.Y., where she works in her uncle and aunt’s grocery store with the pragmatic name “FOOD.” She becomes embroiled in a romance and is summoned to South Korea to meet her failing grandfather. There, Jane learns that the land of her ancestors is a series of surprises—as did the author, who traveled to Korea on a Fulbright scholarship.

“I was whiling away taxpayer dollars.” Park laughed. “Actually, I set out to study the concept of the orphan and how the orphan is understood in the context of the Korean society versus the Victorian society. I was doing volunteer work with group homes, often run by churches, where children are left because the parents don’t have the resources to raise them. So I was doing volunteer work with these group homes and at adoption agencies, services for Korean adoptees. I was writing full time and just trying to take in as much of the modern culture as I could. For a lot of hyphenated Americans like myself, we romanticize the motherland, but the reality is, when we get there, our understanding of the culture was frozen in time—whenever our ancestors left.”

Jane Re leaves Korea enlightened about her parentage and returns to an intimate relationship dilemma.

“When Jane meets the Ed Farley character, he’s the first man to take notice of her,” Park explained. “With women or characters like Jane, they’re grateful for what crumbs are thrown their way. At the same time, gratefulness does not translate to love. A lot of times we feel guilty for even staying involved in relationships, and I wanted to play with that essential for someone like Jane, who has her whole future ahead of her.”

Jane’s future is inevitably tied to her past. Determining where she’s from, who she is, where she’s heading—regardless of how others perceive her or what they expect of her—is a common challenge for children of immigrants, fictional and real.

As Park said, “That’s just part of our every day.”

Jane Re’s resolution, like Jane Eyre’s, reflects well the days in which she is living.