Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Golden Lion of Granpère, by Anthony Trollope

This short novel, which originally ran as a serial in 1872, is set in Alsace-Lorraine.  Most of the action takes place around the Lion d'Or, an inn in the small town of Granpère.  Michel Voss, the owner, runs it with the help of his wife's niece Marie Bromar.  Strong, capable and intelligent, she is a shrewd businesswoman, which struck me as unusual in a Trollope heroine.  She is much more active in the business than her aunt, who is Michel's second wife.  Michel has a son by his first wife, George, who managed a timber business for his father, as well as helping with the inn.  George and Marie are in love, but George's father told him, "I won't have it." So George left the business and his family - not to mention his love - to go to work for an elderly cousin, running her hotel in a nearby town.  He hasn't been home in a year, nor has he sent any word to Marie.  Meanwhile, Marie's aunt and uncle have picked out a husband for her: Adrian Urmand, a Swiss merchant, rich and handsome (though he rather overdoes the hair pomade).  Marie thinks George has forgotten her, George thinks Marie is a fickle woman, Michel Voss thinks he knows best for both, and Adrian thinks he is getting the perfect wife.  It is probably not really a spoiler to say that they are all wrong, because Trollope lays most of this out in the first chapters.  He winds them all up in these knots of emotion and misunderstanding, and then very cleverly unravels the knots.

This story has some familiar Trollopian plot elements, though they develop in an unfamiliar setting.  According to the introduction in my World's Classics edition, Anthony Trollope intended to publish this anonymously, like his earlier works Nina Balatka and Linda Tressel.  He was outed quickly as the author of Nina Balatka, when a reviewer noted a "characteristic Trollopian turn of phrase, 'to make one's way,' used of occasions when the difficulty is psychological and not physical."  I have never noticed that phrase myself.  I have however noticed how often Trollope's heroines are described as "worshiping" their lovers or husbands. I don't think I've come across that in other Victorian novelists, but I'm keeping an eye out.

Even in this short novel, Trollope still managed to work in some post office business: Marie writes a crucial letter to Adrian and sends it on the way to Basle in Switzerland, calculating how long it will take to get there (tracing its route).  When she tells her uncle of it, he sets off to intercept it, but he finds he cannot interfere with the mail.  Trollope sometimes seems as interested in how how a letter gets to its destination as in what happens once it arrives.

I enjoyed this quiet story.  I've read some of Trollope's short stories, set in France and Germany.  The Oxford companion to Trollope notes that he and his wife Rose visited Alsace-Lorraine shortly before he started writing this in 1867.  As the editor says, this may not be an exact picture of life there, but as always with Trollope it is his characters that make his story come alive.  Marie in particular is an interesting heroine.  She isn't well educated - she has trouble writing that important letter - but she is smart and strong.  One of the reasons her uncle gives for wanting her to marry Adrian is that she shouldn't have to to work at the inn all her days.  She is certainly good at essentially managing it for him, she seems to enjoy it, and I hope she will continue to use her talents.

I have been distracted from my reading goals for the Trollope Bicentennial this year, and I also missed reading Framley Parsonage for Audrey's #6Barsets project.  I am hoping to rejoin for The Small House at Allington.

On a side note, this is my 500th post, which seems a little hard to believe.  As it happens, my very first post was on Anthony Trollope, more than four years ago. I know there will be many more to come.  The Trollope section of the TBR stacks doesn't seem to get any smaller, and then there is the pleasure of re-reading, of meeting old friends again in his stories.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Deepening Stream, by Dorothy Canfield

Have you ever hugged a book?  I don't know that I have, but about halfway through this one I closed the covers and just held it for a minute.  I don't know if that was in lieu of hugging the author, or her character Matey Gilbert.  Maybe it was the joyful feeling that in Dorothy Canfield I have found an author whose books really speak to me, the kind that brings out the book evangelist in me.

We meet the central character of this story, Matey Gilbert, looking back over her earliest memory, from when she was four.  (I read the first chapters wondering if "Matey" was pronounced "Matty," only to learn later that it is "Mate-y," a family nickname never explained.)  We follow Matey through the next 30 years or so of her life.  We see her first as a child, learning to walk carefully around her parents' unhappy marriage.  The youngest of three children, she sees her sister Priscilla and brother Francis cope in their own ways with the constant strain of their home life. Matey finds a better way, led in part by a fox terrier who adopts her.  The second part of her life begins when she returns to the small New York village, Rustdorf, where her mother's extended family still lives.  There she meets a distant cousin Adrian and marries him, learning to build a partnership and a home, unlearning the lessons that she had carried from her parents' unhappiness.  The third part of her life opens with the Great War, when Matey and Adrian decide that they cannot sit passively at home while France and Belgium suffer.  They take their two young children to France, where Adrian joins an ambulance brigade and Matey works with refugees.  At the end of the book, they return home to Rustdorf, struggling with the traumas of their war-time experiences, to take up their lives, working in the family's mutual savings bank.  (At one point, I was starting to see visions of It's a Wonderful Life, with its building & loan society in a small New York town.)

The title of the book refers to Matey's "growth of personality," as DCF put it.  This is a familiar theme in her books that I have read so far: how a person grows and develops into herself, what shapes her, how she finds her own way.  DCF shows both positive and negative influences, the mistakes a person can make, the wrong paths she can take.  Her characters may have to struggle alone for a time - sometimes years.  Often, at least in the books that I have read, they find help as they find love, in friends but even more as they find their partner.  This is true for Matey, but marriage to Adrian doesn't solve all her problems.  She has to grow into her marriage, their partnership, and she is still finding her way on the last page of the book.  DCF referred to her as "my poor Matey" in her letters, but I found her an interesting and inspiring character, and her story a hopeful one.

A reader once asked DCF why she wrote so often about marriage.  DCF answered that "there has been a strangely marked 'literary fashion' to decry marriage, to decry and disbelieve in any form or growth towards strength and wholeness."  Her books were written to "correct an exaggeration..." but she did not mean to suggest that "happy marriage is the only solvent" (Letter, 2/7/1938).

Another reader, a professor of literature who championed American authors, wrote to her about the autobiographical elements he saw in this book.  She responded that "in the long run, most novels are a sort of autobiography I suppose."  She went on to write, "In a deep way you are right, of course, since it treats of the growth of personality in a normal woman under such and such circumstances, there must be, beneath the surface, perhaps more than I realize of autobiography" (Letter 11/24/1930).  I think it's having read her collected letters that made the autobiographical elements stand out for me.  Her own parents' marriage was strained by "a complete lack of harmony . . . [which seemed] a burden greater than I could bear during all the time when I was growing up" (Letter 6/22/1943). It is clearest in the last section of Matey's story, which is the longest.  Dorothy Canfield and her husband John Fisher took their two children to France in 1916.  John drove an ambulance, while Dorothy worked with refugees (though she took on many more and diverse work than Matey).  I found this section really interesting, as an account of life in Paris during the Great War.  I had read something of this in her book of short pieces, Home Fires in France, but I thought the story here was more compelling, in large part because we experience it with Matey.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin

It feels like N.K. Jemisin's name has been coming up a lot lately, in blog reviews and also in the controversy over this year's Hugo Awards.  (She wrote about the latter on her website, back in April.)  I decided to start with her "Inheritance trilogy," because I thought the first book sounded very intriguing.  Here's a summary from Amazon:
     Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother's death and her family's bloody history.
     With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Yeine will learn how perilous it can be when love and hate - and gods and mortals - are bound inseparably together. 
The King here is her grandfather, Dekarta Arameri.  Her mother Kinneth was heiress to the throne, before she met a young man from barbarian Darre and married him.  Her father cut her out of the succession, but now he wants her daughter to take her place.  The Arameri control the Consortium, the official governing body of the kingdoms.  Their power relies on a secret weapon, or rather four of them: gods bound into human form, the losers in a heavenly war, and bound to serve the Arameri.

This book more than lived up to its promise.  I read it in a day, fascinated with the vivid world that N.K. Jemisin created and her characters, both mortal and immortal.  Yeine, who narrates the story, is our introduction to that world, and our guide.  But she is as new to Sky - and to its power struggles - as we are. We discover it as she does, seeing it through her eyes, and knowing only what she knows - which isn't enough.  But she is strong and quick to learn, loyal and honorable, and I so enjoyed watching her story unfold, though I was often afraid for her.

I am always interested in the religions that some science fiction and fantasy authors create for their worlds. I particularly enjoy it when the gods and goddesses play a part in the story.  Among my favorites are those in Lois McMaster Bujold's Five Gods series, who interact with their believers and sometimes act through them (the Bastard has such fun with his acolytes).  This book is packed with gods, who are a big part of the story.  But I had no sense of the role that they play in the larger world.  There are references to the priests of Itempas Skyfather, the god of day and light, who vanquished his brother Nahadoth, the Nightlord, and killed their sister Enefa, goddess of dawn and dusk, to reign alone in the Age of the Bright.  I wanted to know more, about how people live with their god(s), what their rituals and beliefs are.  But then this is a story of the Arameri, living far above their subjects, and cheek to jowl with their gods.  Maybe I'll find out more in the other two books of the trilogy, which I have already ordered.

I looked for N.K. Jemisin's books at the library this weekend, but I didn't find any on the shelves.  Saturday night I was in the Google Play Store, checking some books that had been recommended earlier that day at our Jane Austen meeting.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that you get several chapters of books in their free samples.  That was my undoing, when I finally got around to putting N.K. Jemisin's name in the search box.  By the time I finished the four free chapters, I was well and truly hooked, and not just because the last chapter ended mid-sentence.  So much so that I ended up buying an e-version of the book, which I've never done before - but I really wanted to find out what happened next to Yeine.  I did find the format frustrating in reading this, though.  It is such a complex story, with layers of politics and religion and relationships, not to mention its unfamiliar world.  I kept wanting to flip back to check something - even more than usual.  It's partly my lack of practice with the format, but I found it hard to navigate back and forth, and to find the parts I wanted to re-read. I've ordered a print copy of this one as well.  I see there are also a couple of novellas in the series (only available in e-versions), as well as other stories that N.K. Jemisin has written.  I'm so looking forward to exploring her worlds.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Someone at a Distance, by Dorothy Whipple

This book was my introduction to Dorothy Whipple.  She is an author I have learned about only recently, from some of my favorite bloggers (including Anbolyn, Jane, and JoAnn).  So I was very pleased when I saw a Persephone edition of this on the library sale cart - for all of $1.

I think the editors did a neat job of summing up the plot in their back-cover blurb:
Someone at a Distance has a deceptively simple plot about a deceived wife and a foolish husband.  Avery North has been contentedly married to Ellen for twenty years, they have two children and live in the rural commuter belt outside London; when his mother advertises for a companion, the French girl who arrives sets her sights on Avery and callously threatens the happy marriage.  Throughout the book Ellen and Avery are so realistically described that it is almost painful to read: this is a deeply involving and perceptive novel by the literary heir to Mrs Gaskell.

Actually, there's a slight inaccuracy there: Mrs. North doesn't advertise but answers an advertisement, in the personal column of The Times: "Young Frenchwoman desires to spend July, August in English home. French conversation. Light domestic duties." 

We are introduced to the Frenchwoman, Louise Lannier, in the next chapter, as she announces her new post to her parents.  We learn something about her life in her small provincial town, and why she wants to leave it behind for England.  As the story develops, it moves back and forth between France and England, between Louise and Mrs. North, Ellen and Avery and their children.  Eventually Louise comes to stay with Ellen and Avery, and it's then that the trouble begins.

I liked Ellen very much from the start, so my sympathies were with her throughout the story.  She is a good person, a loving wife and mother, busy in the home and expressing her love in domestic cares.  Like many middle-class women after the Second World War, she doesn't have help in the home, so she's always rushing around, trying to do too much, but happy in it.  I also liked Anne, their daughter, who lives for school holidays and her horse Roma.  I felt much sympathy for Monsieur and Madame Lannier, who can never do anything right for their difficult daughter but love her all the same.  And there is a little black and white cat, who first appears galloping to meet Avery and Ellen as they drive up to their home.  Cats who gallop around cars often come to a bad end, and as with the rabbits in Monica Dickens' The Fancy, I was always subconsciously waiting for something awful to happen to little Moppet.  (Spoiler alert: nothing does.)  The headmistress at Anne's school has a cat who lolls around in her study, so I think that Dorothy Whipple may have been a cat person.

More serious spoilers follow:

My only quibble with this book is its ending - specifically, the last two pages.  Up til then, I thought it a perfect ending.  Ellen has survived Avery leaving her for Louise, and their eventual divorce.  She has found a new home, with room for Anne and her son Hugh - not to mention Moppet and Roma.  She has friends, and satisfying work.  She has regained her balance and her strength.  The Avery turns up unexpectedly, with Louise, whom he married after the divorce though he doesn't love or even like her.  Ellen realizes that he is miserable with Louise, that he will leave her and return to Ellen, when their children are grown and gone - and she will wait for him.  I was sorry to read that "The painfully achieved repairs to her life were all broken down . . . Now she must start again and it all seemed chaotic and impossible."  I wanted her choose that repaired, new life.  "Creeping into her heart was the realisation that, although she could not be with him, Avery was restored to her."  She chooses that old love instead, and I found that an unsatisfactory ending - but maybe a realistic one.

Now that I've met Dorothy Whipple, I don't want to wait for copies of her books to turn up (particularly when Persephones are so rare in Houston bookstores new or used).  I have already ordered The Priory and They Were Sisters (which I've been anxious to read).  It was only the shipping costs - and a faint protest from my TBR conscience - that kept me from adding High Wages and Greenbanks to the order.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Ring for Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse

I've said before that I prefer the Jeeves and Wooster stories with more Bertie and less Jeeves.  Well, this story is all Jeeves and no Bertie.  There is a Bertie-ish character of course: Bill, the ninth Earl of Rowcester.  "Intensely amiable and beloved by all who knew him," he is "far from being a mental giant."  He inherited the title and a damp crumbling stately home, Rowcester Abbey, from his uncle, but not the means to support either.  This book was published in 1953, and in P.G. Wodehouse's view, it's a dark time in Great Britain, particularly for the upper classes.  Everyone has to work, there's never enough money, and what there is goes to the income tax.  Bill's brother-in-law Sir Roderick Carmoyle is working at the London department store Harrige's, where he is "Floorwalker in the Hosepipe, Lawn Mower and Bird Bath department."  But he has hopes of a transfer to Glass, Fancy Goods and Chinaware. "And from there to the Ladies' Underclothing is but a step."  However, his wife Monica (known as the Moke) seems to be a lady of leisure.

Bill needs work closer to home, especially since he is engaged to Jill Wyvern, a neighbor who is a veterinarian and the daughter of the Chief Constable. ("We're all working at something," she tells Monica.)  Jill is under the impression that Bill is working for the Agricultural Board, which explains his frequent absences.  In reality, though, Jeeves has helped him set up as a bookie, Honest Patch Perkins.  With Jeeves as his clerk, Bill has been bringing in a steady income.  As the story opens though, disaster has struck in the form of Captain C.G. Brabazon-Biggar, whose double bet on two races came in for just over £3000.  Not having the funds to pay out, Bill and Jeeves ran like rabbits from the race-course.  Unfortunately for them, Captain Biggar is a Great White Hunter, who never loses his prey.  He arrives at Rowcester Abbey in hot pursuit, having tracked their car all the way.  Meanwhile another visitor has arrived, a twice-widowed American millionaire, Rosalinda Spottsworth.  Monica, who met her in New York, has high hopes that she will buy the Abbey.  Bill thinks that is a wonderful idea, because then he can pay off the Captain. There are a couple of small complications (of course): Bill has never mentioned to Jill that he met Mrs. Spottsworth when she was between husbands, and she doesn't appreciate hearing her fiancé called "Billikens" by another woman. The Captain doesn't like it any better, since he has been in love with Mrs. Spottsworth from afar for years.  However, it is against The Code to play a fortune-hunter, so he needs that £3000 more than ever.

Naturally, it is for Jeeves to sort all this out.  He does it while spouting tags and quotes from great thinkers, though told repeatedly to knock it off.  He is actually quite talkative in this book!  He explains early on why he was free to accept the position of butler and bookie's clerk at the Abbey:
"Mr. Wooster is attending a school which does not permit its student body to employ gentlemen's personal gentlemen . . . An institution designed to teach the aristocracy to fend for itself, m'lord.  Mr. Wooster, though his finances are still quite sound, feels that it is prudent to build for the future, in case the social revolution should set in with even greater severity.  Mr. Wooster . . . I can hardly mention this without some display of emotion . . . is actually learning to darn his own socks.  The course he is taking includes boot-cleaning, sock-darning, bed-making and primary grade cooking."
This seems unusually pointed and political for P.G. Wodehouse.  He was living in the United States at the time, so he wasn't facing any social revolutions himself.  I learned from a biography that I have on hand (unread) that this book was written from a play he had recently finished with Guy Bolton.  Looking back, I can see that it would work well on stage, with most of the action taking place indoors.  I enjoyed this more than I expected to, primarily because of Rory and the Moke.  His enthusiasm for Harriage's is funny and a little touching, and he also has his foot perpetually stuck in his mouth.  He can't resist pointing out all the Abbey's defects to Mrs. Spottsworth, to his wife's despair.  I'd be happy to come across them again, in other stories.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Three quick reviews, and a book I didn't finish

I have fallen behind in writing (because I've been reading), so I'm posting these quick reviewlets.

Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson

I bought a copy of this off the library sale shelves because it is a classic, the Puffin paperback was only $1, and it would fill a year in my Mid-Century of Books (1886).  I thought I had read this before, and the opening was familiar enough.  But when I started this however many years ago, I must have given up on it pretty quickly.  I had a clear memory of David climbing up the stair-tower to fetch the chest of papers (in the fourth chapter, "I Run a Great Danger in the House of Shaws").  But I must have read no further, because I had no memory of the kidnapping of the title, and I know that I never met Alan Breck - I couldn't have forgotten him.  This turned out to be the third book I've read this summer that involves traveling around the Hebrides and the Western Isles by boat (the other two being Alastair Dunnett's The Canoe Boys and Dorothy Dunnett's Dolly and the Singing Bird).  In fact, my atlas was still open to the right pages, to track the Covenant's voyage.  And I only had to turn the page to follow David and Alan Breck in their flight across the Highlands.  I was a little surprised at the abrupt end of the story, which felt very unsatisfying.  I was happy to find there is a sequel, Catriona, but I'm wondering if it's worth reading?

Airs Above the Ground, by Mary Stewart

I don't like circuses, or stories about circuses, so I was a little hesitant to read this book.  But I liked the narrator, Vanessa, from the first page.  I was a little concerned about her setting off on a trip to Vienna with her friend's son, seventeen-year-old Timothy Lacy.  It didn't feel quite right - he was either too old or too young for that.  But he is another of the neglected children that often end up in the heroines' care, in Mary Stewart's books.  Vanessa is on her way to Vienna to look for her husband, who is supposed to be on a business trip to Stockholm, but apparently isn't.  Timothy is going to see his father, and also the famous Lipizzaner stallions.  They end up instead in eastern Austria, with a small traveling circus.  But the story is more about the horses than the circus itself, and the recent death of their keeper in a fire.  Vanessa is a vet, as it turns out, with a lot experience working with horses.  I think it's a shame she had to give up working when she married, though she does keep her hand in with volunteer work.  I enjoyed this book a lot, though I found the hero a bit too autocratic for my tastes.  And as Hayley recently mentioned, it's nice to read a mystery without a lot of gore or a high body count.

Beggars on Horseback, E.O. Somerville & Martin Ross

This, the third of Somerville and Ross's travel accounts that I have read, is subtitled "A Ride Through Wales in 1894."  I thought I had read somewhere that this, like In the Vine Country and Through Connemara in a Governess Cart, was originally published as a serial in The Ladies' Pictorial.  I can't find that reference now.   If not, maybe that explains why it feels so different from the other two.  For one thing, the narrator isn't traveling with "my second cousin."  Her companion is called Miss O'Flannigan.  We never learn her first name, or the narrator's.  But more importantly, the two don't seem to enjoy their trip at all.  They seem to dislike Wales and the Welsh.  Granted, the weather was terrible, often pouring rain, and their horses were even worse than the jennet drawing the governess cart.  But there was none of the sense of discovery, the funny situations, the back-and-forth between the travelers.  And there wasn't even that much about Wales itself.  The edition I read is a modern reprint by The Long Riders' Guild Press (I just saw a first edition of this for sale at €395).  Someone made the unfortunate editorial decision to put their website URL at the bottom of every single page, which I found distracting and then annoying.  The book also includes seven pages listing the other titles they have published.  Some do sound interesting, such as Lady Florence Dixie's Riding Across Patagonia:
When asked in 1879 why she wanted to travel to such an outlandish place as Patagonia, the author replied without hesitation that she was taking to the saddle in order to flee from the strict confines of polite Victorian society.  This is the story of how the aristocrat successfully traded the perils of a London parlor for the wind-borne freedom of a wild Patagonian bronco.

The book I did not finish is The Rosary, by Florence L. Barclay.  I looked for a copy of this after reading that it was a best-seller at its publication in 1910 (hoping to fill another year in my Mid-Century).  There will be spoilers to follow.  The story starts off well, with a dowager Duchess who has lost her cranky husband and discovered how happy she can be as a widow.  She gives lively house-parties in her stately home, which she characterizes as "freak parties," "mere people parties," and "best parties."  One of the guests at her current "best party" is her niece, the Hon. Jane Champion.  A big red flag went up when I met Jane:
[She] was now in her thirtieth year. She had once been described, by one who saw below the surface, as a perfectly beautiful woman in an absolutely plain shell; and no man had as yet looked beneath the shell, and seen the woman in her perfection.  She would have made earth heaven for a blind lover who, not having eyes for the plainness of her face or the massiveness of her figure, might have drawn nearer, and apprehended the wonder of her as a woman. . .But as yet, no blind man with far-seeing vision had come her way...
I was seized with foreboding.  I recently read a book, Ada Cambridge's Fidelis, where a man chose to fall in love with a blind woman, because she wouldn't mind his ugly exterior.  I was not prepared to read another story where Love was literally blind, nor one where a physical handicap was exploited even for love.  So I started skipping ahead.  Gareth Dalmain, an artist and society painter, falls in love with Jane after he hears her sing, which reveals to him her subcutaneous beauty.  But Jane refuses his proposal, because she is three years older than he is, but even more because he is an artist, and he shouldn't have to look at her across the table every day.  She goes off to travel the world, to forget him.  Three years later, she learns that he was shot in a hunting accident and is now blind.  So she goes home and nurses him, under a false name.  Eventually all is revealed and forgiven, and they get married.  So points to the author for making Gareth love her as she is (not just plain, but older and plus-sized), and points for letting Jane finally accept that love, even if it's only because he's blind.  Gareth loves Jane for who she is.  Maybe it's too much to expect from a 1910 novel that she could love herself too. I feel that I got more than enough of this story skimming through it, and I'm sending it off to the library sale.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Re Jane, by Patricia Park

This book is a really clever riff on Jane Eyre.  The Jane of the title is an orphan, living with her uncle Sang Re's family in New York City.  Not in Manhattan, far from it: in Flushing, Queens, where Sang runs a grocery store called Food.  The story opens in September of 2000.  A recent college graduate, Jane is working at Food because the job she was supposed to start at Lowood Capital (ahem) vanished in the recent dot-com crash.  Jane grew up working in the store.  Born in Korea, she was sent as an infant to live with her uncle's family, after her mother's death.  Because her father was an American, Jane is marked as honhyol, not pure Korean, less than.  Her friend Eunice Oh, about to start her own new job out in California (working for Google), encourages Jane to break away, to escape, even if it's only over to Brooklyn.  She shows Jane an advertisement for an au pair.  Jane wants Manhattan and an office in the World Trade Center, not a child care job, but she lets Eunice talk her into at least calling the number listed on the ad.

This sets off a story that moves between Queens, Seoul, and Brooklyn (all equally unknown and exotic to me).  Like Charlotte Brontë's character, this Jane is carrying the weight of years of disapproval.  She has been told over and over again that she should be grateful, to appreciate how lucky she is.  In return, she has tried so hard to conform, to show that she was raised right by behaving with nunchi ("the ability to read a situation and anticipate how you were expected to behave").  Starting with her move to Brooklyn, into the home of Ed Farley and Beth Mazer, Jane finds the space to begin asking questions, the big ones about who she is and what she wants to do.  Moving beyond the Korean community of her childhood, she makes a friend, Nina Scagliano, also an au pair.  (Spoiler alert: Nina does not die in an epidemic.)

I found Jane's story a really interesting and engaging one. I enjoyed watching her step into her own life (as Dorothy Canfield Fisher would put it).  She makes mistakes - a couple of big ones - but she finds her way through them and forward.  The section set in Seoul is particularly absorbing, as Jane reconnects with her extended family and learns more about her past.  She also has to learn her way around a new culture, very different from the ex-pat Korean-American community back in Queens.  Even the language is different, as she discovers.  Jane's struggles with her identity, both in America and Korea, run parallel with those of the child in her care, Devon, adopted from China when she was three.

I also enjoyed the parallels between Jane Re and Jane Eyre.  I'm sure that I missed some, as it's been years since I re-read the Brontë story (Helen's death haunts me).  I don't want to spoil the fun of discovering them for anyone, but I have to share two that tickled me: Ed Farley gets an adjunct teaching job at the University of Rochester.  And his wife Dr. Beth Mazer, a feminist literary scholar, has her office in the fourth-floor attic of their brownstone.  Her work focuses on the "misunderstood and demonized [female] characters in nineteenth century novels" - the mad women, in the attics or elsewhere.  Her determined efforts to educate Jane by forcing her to read books and articles cracked me up. (I would bet money that "Wanting a Piece of Fanny: Male Dominance and Violation in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park" is an actual article someone has written.)  I also had to wonder if Patricia Park is a fan of "Moonstruck," since one character is named Joey Cammareri (perhaps a cousin of Johnny and Ronnie).

I first came across this in the books section of the Oprah magazine.  I haven't enjoyed her book club books, but the magazine always features a diverse group of authors and titles, and I usually end up cutting something out from the section each month, to remind me to look for it.  I hadn't gotten around to this one yet when I came across it in the new books bin at the library.  I'm so glad I did.  This is Patricia Park's first novel, and I can't wait to see what she writes next.