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Once Upon A Bookshelf

Where Fiction and Reality Meet

All Roads Lead to Austen

Author: Amy Elizabeth Smith
Originally Published: 2012
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Source: Received ARC from Publisher

The Story

From the back of the book:

Is the magic of Jane a movable 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 espanol, Smith sets 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 with argumentative booksellers in Argentina, Smith 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 Senor Darcy. All Roads Lead to Austen celebrates the wisdom (and pleasure!) of letting go and becoming a student again, no matter what our age.

The Response

When contacted by the publisher about this book I was so super excited about it. Travel memoirs aren’t typically my thing, but one that is centered around Jane Austen? Oh how deliciously wonderful!

According to the blurb in the back of the book, this is Smith’s first foray into non scholarly published works, and it is in all honesty a surprise. Not that I don’t expect scholars to write well, but I didn’t expect it to read well as a recreational read, you know? And it really was – it was hard to put down, there was always something pushing me to the next chapter, and it was such an interesting read! Really, seriously interesting… a chance to see how people in other cultures react to an introduction to Jane Austen? To see if they love it the same way that we do, to see if they can see as much in Austen’s books as we do? It was seriously awesome.

One thing that disappointed me slightly with this book was that, while she had six reading groups, she covered each book twice. So yes, it was cool to see that in cultures completely different from ours, people can still really relate to Austen’s works, but it would’ve been cooler to see all of those novels touched on.

What was most interesting, I think, was how different groups from each of the different countries reacted to different parts of Austen’s books – how some of them reacted to the characters, some to family situations, etc. I wonder how much of that was related to the dynamics of the group and the readers’ personal situations, and how much of it was related to the culture of that particular country.

As it’s always interesting to hear other persons’ thoughts and reactions to books that you know and love, it was certainly a treat to read about so many thoughts and insights all at one point in time. I’m now craving a revisit of all of Austen’s books.

The Bottom Line

A must-read for Austen fans. Definitely. If you like Austen, you must go read it.

Posted by Courtney Wilson @ 7:06 am June 13, 2012.
Category: Non-Fiction
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  • Amy Elizabeth Smith

    Thanks so much for the kind words — I’m really glad you liked it! It was lots of fun to write, too! Amy Elizabeth Smith