Thursday, September 20, 2012

All Roads Lead to Austen

by Amy Elizabeth Smith.

The subtitle is "A Year-Long Journey with Jane," and it does just what it says on the tin. California literature professor Amy Smith meets an intriguing man on a vacation in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, and conceives the idea of traveling around Central and South America to have book group discussions of Jane Austen novels in Spanish translation in six Latin American countries: Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay and Argentina. First, of course, she has to learn to speak Spanish.

I downloaded this to my Nook through Barnes & Noble's Free Friday offer; it's not the kind of thing I would necessarily have read otherwise, and definitely not the kind of book I would buy. Though if I'd stumbled across it at the library I might have given it a try, especially if I'd glanced at the introduction; the author's description of her American students' reactions to Austen was pretty engaging, particularly the part about which characters most deserve a dope slap or two. The whole book ended up being equally entertaining, not least because Smith isn't afraid to make herself look goofy with stories about her own bad assumptions and missteps.

The book definitely assumes a thorough knowledge of Austen, not just the three novels the author used for her discussions--Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma--but also Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey (Smith's acknowledged favorite), though my personal favorite, Persuasion, was only mentioned in passing once or twice. But if you know Austen, this book is both amusing and informative.

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