“Re Jane is snappy and memorable, with its clever narrator and insights on clashing cultures.”—Entertainment Weekly
For Jane Re, half-Korean, half-American orphan, Flushing, Queens, is the place she’s been trying to escape from her whole life. Sardonic yet vulnerable, Jane toils, unappreciated, in her strict uncle’s grocery store and politely observes the traditional principle of nunchi (a combination of good manners, hierarchy, and obligation). Desperate for a new life, she’s thrilled to become the au pair for the Mazer-Farleys, two Brooklyn English professors and their adopted Chinese daughter. Inducted into the world of organic food co-ops and nineteenth–century novels, Jane is the recipient of Beth Mazer’s feminist lectures and Ed Farley’s very male attention. But when a family death interrupts Jane and Ed’s blossoming affair, she flies off to Seoul, leaving New York far behind.
Reconnecting with family, and struggling to learn the ways of modern-day Korea, Jane begins to wonder if Ed Farley is really the man for her. Jane returns to Queens, where she must find a balance between two cultures and accept who she really is. Re Jane is a bright, comic story of falling in love, finding strength, and living not just out of obligation to others, but for one’s self.
Journeying from Queens to Brooklyn to Seoul, and back, this is a fresh, contemporary retelling of Jane Eyre and a poignant Korean American debut.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 2.20(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Patricia Park was born and raised in New York City. She earned her BA in English from Swarthmore College and an MFA in Fiction from Boston University, where she studied with Ha Jin and Allegra Goodman. A former Fulbright Scholar and Emerging Writer Fellow at the Center for Fiction, she has published essays in The New York Times, Slice, and The Guardian. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Read an Excerpt
“Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!”
Home was this northeastern knot of Queens, in the town (if you could call it a town) of Flushing. Northern Boulevard was our main commercial thoroughfare, and two-family attached houses crowded its side streets. They say the neighborhood once contained a hearty swath of the American population, but when I landed here as an infant, Flushing was starting to give way to the Koreans. By the time I graduated from college in 2000, Northern looked like this: Daedong River Fish Market, named after the East River of Pyongyang. Chosun Dynasty Auto Body, run by the father of a girl from my BC calc class. Kumgang Mountain Dry Cleaning, owned by my uncle’s accountant’s cousin on his mother’s side. This was my America: all Korean, all the time.
Flushing. The irony was that none of its residents could pronounce the name of their adopted hometown; the Korean language lacked certain English consonants and clusters. The letter F was assimilated to an H or a P. The adults at church would go Hoo before they could form the word, as if cooling it off their tongue. My uncle and aunt’s rendition: Poo, Rushing. It could’ve been poetry.
Home was 718 Gates Street, Unit 1. It was my Uncle Sang’s house, and I lived there with his family: his wife, Hannah, and my younger cousins, Mary and George. A few blocks away was his store. It was a modest-size grocery carrying a mix of American and Korean products, along with the usual emergency supplies—flashlights and batteries, candles and condoms. From Northern you could spot our green awning, bearing four white letters in all caps: F-O-O-D. Below it were large wooden tables stacked with pyramids of fruit.
One day in late summer, I was crouched in one of the aisles, turning cans of beans face out and flush with the lip of the shelf. I heard someone say, in Korean, “Jane-ah. I heard about Lowood. What a shame.”
It was Mrs. Bae, the wife of the pastor of our church. I stood and ducked my head into a bow. At five foot seven, I towered over most of the women of Flushing. Her words were like salt sprinkled on the sting of being the only one in my graduating class still bagging groceries and restocking merchandise. The economy—with the exception of the tech industry—was, for the most part, still booming. I’d had a job with Lowood Capital Partners lined up since my senior year last fall, never anticipating that in the months that followed, here’s what would happen: The company would be heavily leveraged in dot-com investments, the CEO would resign after accusations of insider trading, and the interim CEO would issue a hiring freeze. My job offer had been rescinded.
Mrs. Bae went on. About how her daughter Jessica worked such long hours at Bear Stearns yet still she would wash the rice and do the laundry and help her little sister with her homework after she got home. How Mrs. Bae felt undeserving of such a devoted daughter. What Mrs. Bae didn’t know was that “Jessica the PK” (Pastor’s Kid) had cut class every Thursday our senior year of high school to shoot pool at Amsterdam Billiards in the city.
“I’ll tell our Jessica to help you,” Mrs. Bae said, staring back with the usual curious expression she seemed to reserve for me. You’d think that after all these years I would’ve gotten used to it. I didn’t. I averted my eyes, focusing on the hairline cracks running through the floor tiles.
“No, no, that’s too much trouble for you.” That was Sang, approaching us.
They had the usual exchange—“No, no trouble at all, you and Mary’s mother must be so worried.” “Eh, what can you do?”—before my uncle turned his head sharply, shooting me a look. I thanked Mrs. Bae. He shot me another look—that was my cue to go get her some fruit, on the house. And none of the cheap stuff.
That was the power of nunchi. There’s no word for it in English; perhaps its closest literal translation is “eye sense.” My friend Eunice Oh sometimes likened nunchi to the Eye of Sauron: an all-knowing stink eye that monitored your every social misstep. Other times she said it was like the Force, a way of bending the world to your will. But Eunice had an annoying tendency of bringing everything back to Star Wars or Star Trek, Tolkien or Philip K. Dick. For me nunchi was less about some sci-fi power and more about common sense. It was the ability to read a situation and anticipate how you were expected to behave. Itwas filling your elder’s water glass first, before reaching for your own. The adults at church always said that good nunchi was the result of a good “family education.”
On my way to the fruit stalls, I was intercepted by Mrs. O’Gall, a petite Irish granny who frequented Food every day. Cradling a head of iceberg lettuce, she demanded help with the Hellmann’s mayonnaise: “It’s too damn high.”
The jars on the shelf were at hip level—I handed one to her. Mrs. O’Gall shook her head. “No, gimme the smaller one.” When I told her that eight-ounce jars were the smallest we carried, she said, “Unbelievable. You people.” She told me to put in a special order from our distributor.
“Yes, Mrs. O’Gall. I’m sorry, Mrs. O’Gall.”
She walked away with her iceberg and mayo, leaving a trail of her particular scent in her wake. Mrs. O’Gall had that unwashed smell the elderly sometimes had, one that made you think of brown paper bags left out in the rain and chin whiskers and absentee adult children. It was the smell of abandonment.
I returned to Mrs. Bae with the fruit, but she was gone. I was making my way back to the shelf of beans when another customer stopped me. Then I rushed to man the second cash register—a line of new customers had formed. The delivery guy from the beverage distributor cut to the front, waving a pink invoice at me. “Who checked your cases?” I demanded. “The little guy,” he said. I knew he was referring to our stock boy, Hwan. I jerked my head, motioning him to the back of the line—we were his customers, so he could very well wait—and when I reached him, I paid him with the dirty twenties we kept at the bottom of the cash drawer, the crisper bills reserved for the shoppers.
I was just about to leave the register when Mrs. O’Gall returned; I processed her mayonnaise refund, even though she’d opened the jar and removed one teaspoon. Then it was over to the wooden stalls, to pick out the bruised and dented fruits from their unblemished counterparts.
I was making my way back to the bean cans again when I saw Sang. His was a harried gait, and it always struck me as less a rush to his destination than a hasty departure from—like he couldn’t get out of a place fast enough.
He frowned when he arrived at where I stood. “You do this?” he said, handing me a pink invoice—the soda delivery I’d just signed off on. My uncle usually spoke to me in English, even though it was his weaker language.
I could hardly expect him to clarify. Sang had a very specific organizational system for running Food; he knew that store and its many intricacies like the back of his chapped hands. The problem was, that knowledge was all in his head and none of us had access to it. And he expected you to read his mind.
Sang had other rules, too, that I’d had to learn over the years:
No chew gum.
No back-talk to customer.
No act like you so special.
No ask stupid question.
“Go to office get last week invoice,” he ordered. I rushed past the aisles of produce and dairy cases to the back corner of the store. This was our “office”—cardboard boxes flattened into walls and duct-taped to leftover PVC pipes. The desk was a slab of scrap wood suspended by L-brackets drilled into the concrete wall. The chair was an upended milk crate. As I rummaged through the banana box on the floor—our version of an accounts-payable/accounts-receivable department—I thought of my interview at Lowood on the 103rd floor of the World Trade Center. My cubicle would have had walls of sleek frosted glass, overlooking an office that overlooked the river.
I found the soda invoice. In my haste to get back to Sang, I tripped on the cinder block propped against the door of the walk-in refrigerator box. I would have pitched forward if Hwan hadn’t dropped his hand truck and rushed to break my fall.
“You okay, Miss Jane?” he said, steadying me to my feet.
“That stupid door,” was all I managed, my cheeks flushed with embarrassment. The problem with the walk-in was that unless you knew how to jiggle the handle a certain way, the door failed to latch. The refrigerator kept things cold as it was, but if it was sealed properly, its contents would stay preserved for up to three days, even if the power blew out. The door, as it stood, was a liability. But whenever I brought the subject up to Sang, he’d wave my words away. If not broke, why you gotta fix? For Sang the inverse was also true: Everything broken could be jerry-rigged to working order. It was his own special form of madness—he never stopped trying to salvage the unsalvageable.
“Why you take so long?” Sang said when I returned with the invoice. He jabbed a finger at the offending signature. My signature. Apparently we were supposed to receive credit for two more soda cases, but the new invoice didn’t reflect that credit. I realized, with sinking stupidity, that I should have called for my uncle on the spot, instead of taking the deliveryman’s word as a given. Things like this happened every now and again—the delivery guys would do a bait and switch, “pocketing” the extra pallet or two—but the store had been busy. I knew what Sang would have said if I’d paged him over the loudspeaker—Why you ask stupid question? Where your nunchi?—as though it were something I’d carelessly misplaced somewhere, like a set of keys or a receipt.
“Why didn’t you just tell me about the credit?” I asked. “Then I would’ve known—”
“Don’t talk back to your uncle,” my aunt interrupted, walking toward us. Then, to her husband, “It’s Mr. Hwang, from Daedong Fish.”
Sang rushed away, and it was just Hannah and me. Her eyes studied mine. “Are you trying to make his high blood pressure go up?” she continued in Korean.
I toed a loose floor tile. Yet one more thing that needed to be fixed. I made a note to grab the contact cement and putty knife in the office.
“Don’t you know how lucky you are?” she said. “You should be grateful.”
Hannah was echoing what everyone in this tangle of Queens thought about my situation. They knew all about my dead mother—I could see it in the way their eyes have fixed on me these past twenty years. Just as I knew who borrowed money from whom to start a business and which of those businesses were flourishing and floundering. I knew their children’s SAT scores, their college acceptances and subsequent job offers, but I also knew who was dating whom, who was cheating on whom, where they went to get drunk or high.
In Flushing your personal business was communal property. Such intimate knowledge was stifling. I tapped a hand to my chest, seeking relief. I felt tap-tap-hae—an overwhelming discomfort pressing down on you physically, psychologically. When the walls felt as if they were closing in around you, that was tap-tap-hae. When the strap of your bra was fastened too tightly across your chest, that was tap-tap-hae. When you were trying to explain to the likes of Hannah how to turn on the computer, let alone how to operate the mouse, that was unbearably, exasperatingly, tap-tap-hae.
I must have been frowning because suddenly I felt a harsh rap on my forehead: my aunt had flicked a finger at me. “Stop that,” she snapped. Hannah had a theory that scrunching your face led to early aging. “You of all people need to worry about wrinkles.”
Then don’t touch me, I thought, but if I spoke the words aloud, I’d only set off the cycle anew. Don’t talk back. You should be grateful. It was easier to comply silently. So one by one I loosened the features of my face. I became expressionless, unreadable.
Then Hannah pointed down the aisle to the shelves of beans. “Why’d you make such a big mess over there? Go finish.”
As I reshelved the beans, I thought once more about that job at Lowood. Flushing and Food would have been an indistinguishable speck from the office windows. I’d have had the chance to see how a real business was run. Not Sang and Hannah’s mom-and-pop operation: decidedly rustic, with none of the homespun charm.
I tapped my hand once more to my chest. Tap-tap-hae. All I wished was for this feeling to go away.
Every Sunday we went to church. On the way you passed the American Roman Catholic church, the Korean Roman Catholic church, the Chinese Buddhist temple, the Pakistani mosque, and an ever-expanding assortment of Korean Presbyterian and Methodist churches. (The Korean Protestants, unlike their Catholic counterparts, seemed to multiply like Jesus’s five loaves and two fishes.) Service was held in one half of a two-family house. After Pastor Bae gave the sermon, the mothers prepared bibimbap in the kitchen for the entire congregation.
Every Sunday, for as long as I can remember, Eunice Oh and I would find each other after the service. She’d always been the same Coke-bottle-glassed girl since childhood. In truth she and I were bound together less by common interests than by our differences from them, the more popular kids in our year: Jessica Bae—Pastor Bae’s daughter, who just graduated from Columbia. James Kim, who went to Wharton and was about to start at Lehman—his parents owned a deli downtown. John Hong, who was at Sophie Davis—his father’s herbal-medicine practice was down the block from Food. Jenny Lee, who went to Parsons and now did graphic design for CosmoGirl! magazine—her mother owned a nail salon on the Upper East Side, but her father graduated from Seoul National and, according to my Aunt Hannah, “was too proud to get a menial job.”
But this was our last Sunday together. Eunice was leaving again, this time for good. First it had been for MIT, where she’d majored in something called “Course VI.” Now for San Francisco, where she’d gotten an offer from Google. Eunice had had her pick of offers—including one from Yahoo!—but she went with Google. Why she would take a job with a dot-com immediately after the dot-com crash, no one could understand, but I suspected it had to do with her American boyfriend, a guy called Threepio. He’d also accepted a job in Silicon Valley. They were heading out the next day.
“The job search, how goest?” Eunice asked, pushing up the nosepiece of her thick glasses with a chubby finger.
“It goest—” I started, then stopped. You never knew what you were going to get with Eunice. One day she spoke like an Orc, the next like Shakespeare. Sometimes I found myself imitating her without even realizing I was. “It’s going. Actually, it’s not. There’s nothing on the market.”
She waved one hand in the air and rummaged through her bag with the other. The other girls from church carried purses, but Eunice had had the same Manhattan Portage messenger bag since the seventh grade, which I knew was filled with its usual jumble of stubby mass-market paperbacks, a well-thumbed C++ pocket guide with some chipmunk drawing on the cover, magazines ranging from Scientific American to the 501st Daily, assorted highlighters, and German mechanical pencils (.5-mm thickness) and their lead refills. Eunice Oh could not wait for the day when paper went digital.
She pulled out a copy of the Village Voice; its circulation in our part of Queens was nonexistent. The page was opened to the classifieds, her finger pointing to one of the listings.
I peered down. An ad for a fertility clinic. “You want me to sell my eggs?”
“No. This one.” She jabbed again. And there, wedged between the clinic’s posting and one from an escort service offering “discreet and seXXXy services” was the following:
BROOKLYN FAMILY DESIRING AU PAIR
We wish to invite into our family an au pair(i.e., a live-in “baby-sitter,” although n.b., we take issue with such infantilizing labels; seeing as the term has yet to be eradicated from the vernacular, we have opted—albeit reluctantly—to use it in this text for the sole purpose of engaging in the lingua franca) who will foster a nurturing, intellectually stimulating, culturally sensitive, and ultimately “loving” (we will indulge the most essentialist, platonic construct of the term) environment for our bright (one might even say precocious) nine-year-old daughter, adopted from the Liaoning province of China. In these postmodern, postracial times, we desire said au pairto challenge the existing hegemonic . . .
The ad cut out, exceeding its allotted space.
Eunice knew I was supposed to be looking for a job in finance, not a nanny gig. It was insulting that she thought so little of me. I might not have gone to a name-brand college like MIT or Columbia (even though everyone at church thought that Columbia was one of the easiest Ivies to get into), but I’d still gotten an offer from Lowood. I wanted out of Flushing, but not so badly that I’d be willing to change diapers or the equivalent in order to do it. I had spent enough of my lifetime watching my cousins Mary and George walk all over me because they knew I had absolutely no power over them. I had a plan. Baby-sitting was not part of that plan.
“Don’t you want to get out?” Eunice asked, looking at me. “A very sheltered existence you lead.”
She was one to talk. “So you’re telling me to go live with a bunch of total strangers. Who can’t even write normal English.”
“What do you expect? They’re probably academics.”
“They live in Brooklyn.” The whole point was not to trade one outer borough for the other but to upgrade to the city. We had spent countless rides on the 7 train, watching as the Manhattan skyline bloomed into view. As kids we used to imagine living in deluxe condos that overlooked Central Park.
I sighed. “A bunch of places have my résumé on file. If something comes up in the next year—”
“Much can happen in a year,” she interrupted. “Just apply. Worst-case scenario, you hate them, they hate you, you part ways. But I have a good feeling about this. Their daughter’s Asian, you’re also Asian”—she glanced up at my face, revised—“ish. And you can play up your whole epic sob story: uncle, grocery store, orphan. Everyone loves a good orphan story.” (Technically I was only half an orphan.) “Jane. Your ticket out, this could be.”
Eunice extended the paper anew. Reluctantly I took it from her.
We made our way to the line for food. Eunice’s father was standing in front of us. I bowed; Dr. Oh and I were nearly the same height. “Eunice-ah,” he said, after I greeted him. “Make sure you mail letter to Jane after you leave home.” Dr. Oh spoke a fluid, gentle English, a far cry from the choppy waters of Sang’s speech.
“Abba: letter writing is obsolete.”
“Yes, well . . .” He fumbled for words; finding none, he patted a warm hand on his daughter’s back. But instead of leaning into her father’s embrace, she pointed ahead. “Abba, the line. It’s moving.” Eunice Oh had no nunchi whatsoever.
The mothers heaped rice onto our Styrofoam plates, and we loaded up on bean sprouts with red-pepper flakes, spinach and carrots drizzled in sesame-seed oil, ground beef marinated in a sweet soy sauce, brown squiggles of some namul root whose name I didn’t know in English, fried eggs with still-runny yolks, shredded red-leaf lettuce, a spoonful of red-pepper paste, and of course squares of cabbage kimchi.
We headed to the kids’ table. Jessica Bae dabbed at her mouth with a napkin and said, “So, Eunice, you’re, like, leaving us. That’s so sad!”
“Yo, Eunice, isn’t that, like, mad stupid? Working for a dot-com right now?” James Kim said.
“A good company it is. A greater company it will be.” When she spoke, she looked at no one in particular, which gave the impression that she was talking to herself. Sometimes I wondered how Eunice Oh had ever managed to get a boyfriend.
Jenny Lee tittered into her napkin. Jessica Bae turned to me. “So . . . Jane!” she said brightly. “That, like, totally sucks about Lowood. How’s the job hunt going?”
“. . .” I hated when it was my turn.
“My mom said she saw you at your uncle’s store yesterday.” Jessica paused. “It must be really tough to get a job when, like, you know . . .”
“You know” meant “You only graduated from CUNY Baruch.”
I could feel Eunice studying my face. “Jane has a job she’s considering. An au pair job.”
I shot her a look of nunchi, but Eunice pretended not to see me.
“A what pair?” said John Hong.
“Isn’t that, like, a housemaid?” said Jenny Lee.
“That doesn’t look good at all,” Jessica Bae continued. “Do you know about our rotational internship? At Bear Stearns?” She repeated the name of her firm, as if I could forget. “You should apply? It’s, like, for college seniors, but I can totally put in a good word for you?”
Did I mention Jessica Bae only got into Columbia off the wait list?
Then my cousin Mary came to our table with a plate full of just vegetables (in public she was perpetually on a diet) and took the seat next to John Hong. She smiled brightly at him. She smiled brightly at everyone, except Eunice, at whom she curled her lip and said, “Eunice.” When her eyes fell on me, they grew round. “Omigod, Jane,” she said, pointing at my face.
Everyone’s eyes followed the direction of her pointing.
“You’ve got . . . on your forehead . . .”
I swiped at my face, thinking red-pepper paste had splashed me. My fingers fell on a tiny bump. I saw James Kim feeling his own face for pimples. He’d had horrible acne since the eighth grade. When I looked at Eunice for confirmation, she just shrugged. “Darker matters have come to pass,” she said.
Jessica Bae began rooting through her tiny purse. She pushed a travel-size bottle of astringent and a Baggie of cotton pads into my hand. “Here. Go to the bathroom.”
Since everyone expected me to drown my pimple in purple-tinted salycylic acid, I got up, dreading how their eyes would once again latch onto my face when I returned. On the short walk to the bathroom, I ran into Pastor Bae and his wife, Jenny Lee’s parents, James Kim’s, John Hong’s, Eunice’s, and of course Sang and Hannah. I forced myself to go bow, bow, bow to each and every adult I met.
I finally reached the bathroom, and leaned all my weight against the locked door. My neck was sore from the rapid succession of bowing. My cheeks hurt from all the strained smiling. I lifted my eyes to the mirror. What I saw was limp black hair. Baggy brown eyes. Sharp and angry cheekbones, pasty skin, pointy chin, and—like a maraschino cherry on top of the whole mess—a furious red pimple smack-dab at the center of my forehead, the same spot where Hannah’s finger had jabbed me the day before. At first glance I looked Korean enough, but after a more probing exploration across my facial terrain, a dip down into the craters under my eyebrows, or up and over the hint of my nose bridge, you sensed that something was a little off. You realized that the face you were staring into was not Korean at all but Korean-ish. A face different from every single other face in that church basement.
* * *
After lunch Eunice offered to give me a ride home. Staring down the expanse of Northern Boulevard through the windshield, she let out a long, low sigh. But soon she would leave Flushing and slip back into her world, the one where each ping she volleyed forth would be met with its appropriate pong. I was glad for her. Sad for me, but glad for her.
She gripped the steering wheel and drove off.
When we pulled up to 718 Gates, I said, “I guess this is it.”
Eunice’s eyes were still fixed on the road ahead. “That’s right.”
I reached for the door handle, paused, and blurted, “I’ll miss you.”
“I know.” Her words sounded canned.
I jerked open the handle. “Well, don’t get all mushy on me.” One foot was already out the door. “See you, Eunice.”
“It’s ‘So long, Princess . . .’” Eunice’s tone changed to the one she used when enlightening the unenlightened, but there was a hitch in her throat. She stopped, started again. “Good-bye, Jane Re. I wish you well. May the Force be with you.”
“And also with you,” I found myself saying.
We shook hands.
“Lose the nunchi, Jane,” Eunice said. With these words she drove off and we each went our separate way.
Bridges and Tunnels
The next day I boarded the 7 train leaving the Main Street–Flushing station. There was an unmistakable rattle whenever you stepped aboard the 7, as if the train cars were hinged together by a single loose pin. We passengers accepted this precariousness with not much more than a sigh before slumping into our seats.
But I wasn’t heading for the city, the way Eunice Oh and I always imagined when we were growing up. I was on my way to Brooklyn. There was a geographical irony of leaving Queens for Brooklyn—two outer boroughs that abutted each other. The fastest route was to make a right angle through Manhattan, crossing both bridge and tunnel.
It’s not that we had beef, per se. We acknowledged our kindred scrappiness to Manhattan. We were, after all, Bridge & Tunnel: all our roads led to Manhattan. It was the borough that blazed in its own violet light and threw scraps of shadows on the rest of us.
I had been to Brooklyn only a handful of times in my life. Whenever we drove through, Sang would make us roll up the windows and double-check that our car doors were locked. He’d written off the entire borough after a fruit-and-vegetable he owned on Smith Street went up in flames during a blackout. According to Hannah, Sang had stumbled home that night with burnt clothes, a black eye, and a busted rib. Since then his mind conflated the three B’s: Brooklyn, black people, and the blackout. Add to that one more B: a baby. A bundle of joy. Me. When I arrived not one year later, he was still picking up the pieces of his broken store. He took to carrying a metal baseball bat on the passenger side of his car. His wife was budding with her own pregnancy. I was a burden, the daughter of his dead younger sister—and a honhyol bastard to boot.
My mother was one of four children: two boys and two girls. First was Big Uncle, a man I’d never met, who still lived in Korea. Sang was second. Then my mother only two years later. Emo, the youngest, trailed behind them all by more than a decade. I had never met her either. Sang spoke little of the family in Korea and even less about “that stupid thing” my mother had done as a college student up in Seoul: she fell in love. It was an indulgence at a time when most marriages were arranged. Worse, she fell for an American man, a GI, or so the story went. My grandfather kicked my pregnant mother out, or maybe she left of her own accord; Sang was stingy with the details, and Hannah filled in patches of the narrative of the sister-in-law she had never met, colored with her own perceptions. (“Your mother was a wild fox-girl. Don’t you dare grow up to become like her.”) In any case, my mother had me—a honhyol, a mixed-blood. Then she died of carbon monoxide poisoning from the fumes of cheap coal briquettes used for cooking and heating—an all-too-common occurrence in Korea back then. Rightfully I should have died, too, had not Providence, or maybe it was the police, saved me from the wreckage.
After my mother’s death, the responsibility of dealing with me defaulted to my grandfather. The way I pictured it, was he was stepping outside one morning to get a drink from the well and there I was, swaddled on his doorstep. He stared down at me and thought, Oh, shit.
There was no question I would have been stigmatized if I’d stayed in the motherland—a society where the slightest physical differences were scrutinized like a genetic anomaly. Where my dubious lineage would have undoubtedly come to light. So perhaps my grandfather was benevolent in sending me to live with my uncle in America, when he could have carted me off to an orphanage instead. Either way, he rid himself of an inconvenient problem. But here’s another geographical irony for you: I traveled nearly seven thousand miles across the globe to escape societal censure only to end up in the second-largest Korean community in the Western world.
We were stuttering our way out of Queens. The 7 train was like that: Tourettic. The lights blinked on and off; the rickety train cars jerked from side to side as much as front and back. I stared at the other slumped passengers. The faces repeated in a pattern: Korean, Hispanic, Chinese, Chinese again, Indian. You could always tell by their worn expressions that they were going from home to work. You could always tell by their worn shoes: sometimes high-top sneakers with the backs cut out to form makeshift slippers, sometimes pleather platforms or paint-splattered construction boots—all sharing the same thick rubber soles, designed to absorb the work of the day.
The train emerged aboveground, the windows opening to the sprawl of Flushing. First you saw a beautiful clock tower sitting on top of a concrete storage warehouse with loud capital letters: U-H-A-U-L. Then the Van Wyck, snaking its way through heaps of sand and ash, through auto-body shops and junkyard lots. Wood and steel beams had lain in abandoned stacks for as long as I could remember; whether they represented the start of construction or the aftermath of demolition was anyone’s guess. There were rows of brown, frayed, tarped storefronts with Korean lettering. Then the view of Shea: a stadium the shade of working-class blue with dimly lit neon figures at bat. On game nights you could barely make out the halfhearted roars in the half-empty seats—a smattering of loyal fans in blue-and-orange satin jackets. Ahead, the silvered peaks of the midtown skyline glinted in that violet light. This was our Queens wasteland.
Then the lights flickered off.
In the expansive darkness of the tunnel between Queens and Manhattan, the 7 stalled and let out a low, hesitant sigh that echoed inside the train car as one passenger after the next breathed out with exhaustion. It was the same sigh Eunice had let out on the drive home. We were frustratingly close, yet so far from where we wanted to be.
Then the lights flickered back on and we surged forward, Flushing falling away behind us.
In the row of brownstones between Clinton and Henry Streets in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, 646 Thorn Street was the only house on the block with a string of red paper lanterns hung in the doorway. To the left of the door was a hooded bay window, and from where I stood it gave the impression that the house was winking at me, as if we were both in on the same joke.
Brownstones were not part of the indigenous Queens architecture. Our houses were sometimes clapboard, redbrick, or concrete, more often than not aluminum-sided. The single-family detached houses lay farther east, in the neighborhoods jutting into the Little Neck Bay.
I was in Brooklyn for my interview for that nanny job. I couldn’t tell you exactly what had compelled me to apply, except that I was being practical. I took a hard look at my situation: financial firms usually recruited in the fall for summer hires. The soonest I could start a new job would be one year from now. Temping or bookkeeping—my other options in the interim—was not all that attractive on a résumé; baby-sitting wouldn’t look that much worse. (Not that I would dare put “nanny” under “work experience”; I’d have to explain away the time off with the excuse that I was studying for the GMATs. Or skipping about Europe with a backpack.) But maybe the real impetus had been curiosity. Who was this family with an adopted daughter from China? They were willing to hire and shelter and feed a whole other person, just for their one daughter. And Hannah used to say I was the lucky one. She let me tack on my piano lessons at the end of Mary and George’s. (By the time that piano teacher got to me, she’d heave a nunchi-ful sigh, so I’d let her wrap up our sessions after a hasty set of Czerny exercises, my fingers tripping over the scales.)
When I called the ad’s box number at the bottom of the paper, someone named Ed Farley answered. Over the phone he was clipped, his voice gravelly, with a Brooklyn accent. After a few basic questions, he rattled off a date and time, along with his address. But he did not pass the receiver to Mrs. Ed Farley.
I knew the Ed Farley type. He shared the same raspy tone as the older Irish men from the neighborhood who shopped at Food. Someone like Mrs. O’Gall’s son. (Once a year, the day after Christmas, her son would take her grocery shopping and Mrs. O’Gall would parade him around the store. Then he’d return to his Greek Revival four-bedroom in Westchester—she’d shown us pictures—until the next year.) By the end of that phone conversation, I had outfitted Mr. Farley in a short-sleeved button-down yellowed with pit stains, brown polyester pants hemmed a few inches too short, and black orthopedic shoes with thick cushioned soles. I went ahead and added a middle-aged paunch, fading tufts of yellow hair, and sagging jowls, smattered with liver spots.
When the door swung open, the man standing behind it looked nothing like the Ed Farley I’d imagined. He was past the youthfulness of his twenties but too boyish for middle age; he was probably in his mid- to late thirties. He had a full shock of blond hair—the kind of natural blondness I used to see more as a kid but these days rarely made an appearance on the 7 train. His deep-set eyes were the same shade of blue as Shea, but instead of the stadium’s flat, matte color, Mr. Farley’s eyes were bright with vigor. He had a square forehead, a straight nose, high cheekbones, and a strong jawline. He shared the same conventionally handsome features of the male models in the Polo ads, but there was still something a touch too Irish, a touch too hard-worn about his face to be considered all-American.
Then I realized that while I was exploring his face, this man had also been probing mine. It was not in the same parsing way Korean eyes looked at me, trying to discern the percentage of my genetic split. Judging by the tight line his lips made, I could tell that mine was a face that displeased him. I grew self-conscious; I took a step back.
He spoke. “You Jane Re?” he said. There was that thick Brooklyn accent.
I nodded, too shy to trust my own voice. Our family name, in the original Korean, was pronounced “Ee”—less a last name than a displeased squeal. “Lee” was its most common Western perversion, but there were others: Rhee, Wie, Yee, Yi. Re was a bastard even among the other bastardizations.
“Ed. Ed Farley.” He stuck out his hand. I expected it would be rough to the touch, but my fingers glided over the smooth skin of his palm.
I followed Ed Farley down a dark, narrow hallway, lined with carved African masks. Mr. Farley was not tall—maybe only two inches taller than me—but under his buttoned-up shirt I could tell he was broad-shouldered and lean. He had the kind of natural muscles that made you think of hours spent not at the gym but on construction sites, lifting beams of wood and steel, or warehouses, loading pallets of merchandise onto trucks.
I adjusted my suit blazer and pulled down the hem of my skirt. If something happened to me, I knew what Sang would say: Telling you so. I’d had to pretend I’d gotten an interview with a bank.
After a seemingly endless hallway, we finally turned left and entered the living room. We’d just made a loop around the house, only to wind up right back at the front. The bay window down at the far end of the room, draped in crimson velvet curtains, was the same hooded window that had stared out at me from the street. Dark wood bookshelves, crammed with books, floated on the walls, with more books heaped in piles on the floor.
There was a rustling of the curtains; I saw a small foot poking out, then a little leg, then a little girl. An Asian girl. She had a tiny frame but a large head, its largeness further emphasized by the unfashionable bowl cut of her stick-straight black hair. She didn’t look stereotypically Chinese—I might even have mistaken her for Korean. She jumped down from her window perch and bounded toward me with purposeful strides. She looked like a colt: half trotting, half tripping. One arm was sticking out in the air, ready to receive mine. The other held an oversize newspaper.
Her outstretched hand reached me first. “You must be Jane Re. My name’s Devon Xiao Nu Mazer-Farley, and next week I start the fifth grade. It’s a real pleasure to meet you.” By the time she finished speaking, the rest of her body had caught up to her hand.
We shook; the girl had a surprisingly tight grip.
Devon Xiao Nu Mazer-Farley’s face was so different from Ed Farley’s: it was shallow, like swift strokes on a sheet of clay. On a scale of increasing facial three-dimensionality, things would look something like:
I heard light, scampering footsteps, like a mouse’s. I turned around and saw a woman hurrying toward me, arm outstretched, frizzy gray hair streaming behind her. She squeezed my knuckles. “You must be Jane. I’m Beth, Devon’s mom. It’s a real pleasure to meet you.”
This was Mr. Farley’s wife? She looked a decade too old for him. “A real pleasure to meet you, too, Mrs. . . . Farley.”
“Mrs. Farley!” she laughed.
“That kind of has a nice ring to it,” Mr. Farley said from the couch, but too softly for the woman to hear.
“Please,call me Beth,” she said to me. “But for the record, it’s Dr. Mazer.”
I apologized for my error, but with a swipe of her arm Beth waved it away.
“Please, excuse me. I must return to my reading,” Devon said to no one in particular, returning to her window nook, disappearing altogether behind the curtains.
Beth gestured to the seat next to Ed Farley. “Make yourself comfortable.”
I looked at the wicker love seat where he was sitting—there was maybe a foot and a half of clearance. It would be a very tight squeeze.
“Dr.—Beth, please, sit—”
But Beth insisted. “I’ve been parked on my ass all day.” She said “ass” right in front of her daughter and didn’t bother to censor herself. Only Mr. Farley cleared his throat.
I was made to sit. I pressed my knees together, so they wouldn’t knock into Ed Farley’s. I could feel his tense thighs against mine. Beth began pacing around the room, swinging her arms vigorously. Hannah did the same thing to increase circulation. Black, wiry sprouts of hair peeked out from under Beth’s arms through her sleeveless, shapeless tunic top.
I couldn’t picture a more mismatched pair than Beth Mazer and Ed Farley. Beth looked like she was well into her forties: her face was gaunt, with yellow circles under her large, dark eyes. Blackheads studded her nose. Perhaps if Beth dyed her hair or blow-dried her frizzy strands straight, she might have minimized the age gap between them. Still, she seemed to carry herself with the confidence—and entitlement—of a younger, prettier woman.
“Jane!” Beth said. “We are thrilled to meet you. Tell us everything.”
Everything? I reached for the file folder in my bag. “Here is my résumé—”
Beth waved it away. “We want to get to know you. Let’s have a conversation.”
Weren’t we already? “Um, okay.”
“You just graduated from college, right? What was that experience like?”
Beth’s question was oddly open-ended.
“It was good, I guess. I double-majored in finance and accounting.”
“Isn’t that a shame, Beth.” It was Mr. Farley who spoke.
“Ignore him, Jane. That comment was more about me than about you.” Over my head they exchanged a look. Beth went on. “I suppose the cat’s out of the bag, Jane: I have something of a predisposed bias against banker types. They are my mother’s people! Clearly I’m a self-hater. So it goes, so it goes.” Clearly Beth was an oversharer. As she spoke, her cheeks did not flush red, the way most normal people’s would when they realized they were divulging too much information.
She went on. “But frankly, Jane, I’m surprised you’re applying for this kind of job. You seem like a bright, sensitive young woman, despite your degree.”
It wasn’t a question, so I didn’t answer it.
“Tell us where you’re from.”
Beth called out to Devon, “Remember, sweetie? The last time we were in Queens? When I took you to see the Mets play the Giants?”
Devon turned from her window perch. “And the Mets lost,” she said, scrunching her nose. “They always lose.”
“You’ve got to believe, sweetie.”
People only ever have two stories about Queens: bad times at JFK and bad times at Shea Stadium.
“And what do your parents do out there?” Beth backpedaled hastily. “That is, if you’re comfortable talking about it. I know I hate it when people are always like, ‘And what do your parents do?’ God, look at me! I’m turning into my mother.” Beth made an exaggerated shudder, presumably for comic effect, but when she finished that routine, she stared down at me, waiting for an actual answer.
“My uncle has a grocery store in Flushing.”
“Your . . . uncle?”
I found myself craving the sterility of corporate-finance interviews.
“I live with his family. They—My mother died a while ago.”
The curtains parted, and Devon came bounding across the room. She put her face right up to mine. “How did your mother die?”
“Devon!” Beth said sharply. I exhaled a sigh of relief. But then she said, “It’s not polite to ask that. It’s better to say, ‘How did your mother pass away?’”
Devon corrected herself, her small hand giving my shoulder a reassuring pat. Then her motherbegan patting my other shoulder. The two exchanged a conspiratorial look of shared pity. This interview was starting to make me feel tap-tap-hae. I turned my head away, because I couldn’t trust myself not to contort my face with displeasure. You of all people need to worry about wrinkles. I caught Ed Farley’s eye.
“If she doesn’t want to talk about it, she doesn’t want to talk about it,” Mr. Farley muttered before picking up the newspaper. I was surprised by his display of nunchi.
Thankfully, the conversation moved on to other topics. Beth settled to the floor and crossed her legs. She lectured, and I listened. She told me she was a professor of women’s studies at Mason College. (“Up for tenure next year!” she added in a strangely anxious, high-pitched tone.) I remembered seeing their ads on the subways—WHERE POETS BECOME PARTICLE PHYSICISTS . . . AND VICE VERSA!, the tagline read—above a set of multihued youths leaping in the air. Mr. Farley taught high-school English at a prep school downtown. They had met at Columbia as graduate students in the English department. She talked about Devon’s adoption process—“We’re trying to revise the adoption rhetoric by calling it an ‘alternative birth plan’”—as well as the responsibilities that came with the au pair position.
“I don’t want someone who’s just going to clock in and out each day. We want you to grow and become part of our family,” she said. “We want—”
Devon, peeking out again from the window, called out, “Ma, I need your help. What’s the author mean by this?” Devon had completely interrupted our interview, but Beth did not tell her it was rude. Sang and Hannah always used to wave me away when they were with other adults, until I was old enough to learn not to bother them at all. Instead Beth turned her full attention to her daughter. “Let’s have a look, sweetie.” Devon brought the paper to Beth and inserted herself into her mother’s lap.
Beth studied the page. I mean, studied. At first I’d thought, based on the thick white paper and colorful illustration on the cover, that it was some sort of children’s newspaper. I was wrong. The text inside was chunky, with little white space. Four minutes ticked by. (I kept making not-so-subtle glances at my watch.) I thought of what Sang would say: You think time like some kind of luxury? But Beth was so absorbed in her reading it was as if the rest of us weren’t even there.
Finally she looked up. “Okay, sweetie, let’s break it down. The author refers to a ‘cultural investigation.’ What do you suppose she means by that?”
“I already know what thatmeans,” Devon said impatiently. But her mother was still looking expectantly at her. “Fine. ‘Investigation.’ It’s like when a detective goes around and starts looking for clues to solve a crime. Like this one time on Law & Order they were interviewing the murder victim’s parole officer—” She clamped a hand over her mouth. Beth shot her husband a look. “Ed!”
I don’t know how I thought Ed Farley would react. But he just gave a boyish shrug of his shoulders and said, “She wandered in while it was on TV. What, you wanted me to turn our daughter away?”
“And Daddy made me do muffin ears and face the wall whenever they did the shooting scenes,” Devon piped up, thinking she was helping their case.
Beth shook her head. “Sometimes I don’t know what to do with your father.” She sighed. Given the rather jocular tone of the family moment, I thought she would leaven her words with a smile, but instead she shot her husband another angry look.
Beth and Devon continued to discuss the article. There was an exhaustive thoroughness to Beth’s explanations, so much so that she generated little forward movement. She seemed to circle in place, hovering over each word as she unpacked its meaning, before she moved on. She was, I could tell, a dogged perfectionist—she took all the time in the world to belabor each and every point. It was exasperating to watch. Yet Beth never seemed exasperated. She continued looking intently, tenderly, at her daughter until it was clear that Devon understood the whole piece.
When they were finished, Beth folded her daughter into her arms. “Wo ai ni, Devon.”
“Wo ai ni, Ma,” Devon said, her arms wrapped in a choke hold around her mother’s neck.
Then, perhaps so she wouldn’t leave her father out, she yanked on his hand. “Wo ai ni, Daddy.”
He put down his paper. “I love you, too, Devon,” he said, and gathered her into a bear hug. Then the family reconfigured into a group huddle.
Devon exchanged another conspiratorial look with her mother. Should we? she seemed to say. Beth nodded. Their circle parted. Ed Farley was opposite me at the far end of that circle, flanked by his wife and daughter. Devon and Beth each entwined their arms fiercely around me.
It would have been so easy to write them off. Beth Mazer, with her hairy armpits and her complete lack of social grace. Ed Farley, gruff and a little cold, and probably ten years her junior. Their daughter, Devon, a half-pint-size imitation of her mother, even though she was Chinese. And now they were touching me. Sang and Hannah never hugged me. They didn’t even hug their own children. We were not a touchy-feely kind of family. I could have chalked up the whole strange experience to potential cocktail-party fodder: This one time? When I interviewed to be a nanny? They were a family of freaks.
Something in that moment shifted for me; I can’t explain why. On a rational level, I recognized the corniness of the moment. I recognized the inappropriateness of their behavior, of the job itself, the underutility of my college degree. Yet I also considered the way Beth had explained the article to Devon, saw the way she was holding her now. I suddenly pictured myself living with them, being taken into the fold. It did not seem so far-fetched that I could be Devon’s au pair. My tense shoulders began to loosen. Slowly I returned Devon and Beth Mazer’s embrace. I took care not to brush hands with Ed Farley.
And then, just as immediately, we broke free and something shifted again.
“I know what you’re thinking. My Mandarin’s terrible,” Beth said.
“It’s true! All the kids at Chinese school make fun of Ma’s bakgwai accent,” Devon said.
I didn’t know exactly what bakgwai meant, but I recognized it as a not-nice way the Chinese kids sometimes referred to the American kids at school. Beth blushed. I was surprised by how deeply her cheeks flushed red, for a woman who seemed to have no sense of shame. She said, “Be honest, Jane. Just how bad is my accent?”
Did she think I was Chinese? If Beth Mazer hadn’t waved away my résumé, she would have found, listed under “Skills,” a proficiency in Korean, not Mandarin.
“I’m . . . um, Korean—”
“You’re not Chinese?” Beth interrupted. “You mean, Ed didn’t . . .” I didn’t think her face could get any redder, but it grew redder still. Her eyes darted to her husband. “Ed!”
While Ed Farley took his time composing his response, Beth whipped her head back to me. “Please don’t think I’m one of those people who just assumes. God, I’m mortified! You must think I’m a culturally insensitive boor. But it’s just . . . we advertised for a Chinese au pair.”
“The ad cut out,” was all I could manage. Nunchi forbade me from saying anything more, such as, Why didn’t you write a shorter ad?
“Ed. Could I speak to you in the kitchen? Please. Now.” Beth’s questions fell flat at the ends, like statements.
Ed Farley let out an exasperated sigh. “If we must.”
The two got up and left the room. I wondered if I should just see myself out. While I puzzled over what to do, Devon bounded across the room and took her father’s seat next to me.
I heard indecipherable murmurs coming from the other side of the house.
“It’ll be okay,” Devon said, patting my hand, as if our roles were reversed.
I looked over at her, her face contorted into the kind of scrunch that Hannah always yelled at me to fix. Did it bother Devon that she looked nothing like her parents? When I was her age, my hair was much lighter than the black it eventually settled into, and a smattering of freckles spread like wings on either side of my nose. People were always pointing out the differences. It made me grow awkward and tentative in social situations. Yet Devon seemed so assured of her place in the world. She was just like her mother.
I heard a burst, from Mr. Farley. “. . . about to ask if she’s Chinese over the phone!”
Beth murmured, “. . . our daughter’s development.”
Devon put on a bright smile. “Let’s read something.” When she said, “Let’s,” she’d actually meant “I’ll.” She snapped open her newspaper and began to read, in an even, eloquent voice, tripping over fewer words than I would have if the paper had been placed in my hands.
I heard Mr. Farley’s voice again. “Then I guess you can’t hire her!”
“But she’s . . .” Beth trailed off.
Ed Farley walked briskly back into the room. I stood up. Then, standing close enough for me to smell his clean soap smell, he said, “We’ll be in touch.”
I’d heard those words repeated from enough HR departments to know what they meant: Thanks, but no thanks. I’d bombed—for being the wrong kind of Asian. I couldn’t even land my backup plan, a job that up until a few moments ago I hadn’t even wanted in the first place.
Devon looked up at me and squeezed my hand. “Best of luck,” she said.
“You, too,” I said, though she didn’t need it. I squeezed back.
I told Mr. Farley I’d see myself out. I retraced the circuitous route to the front door. Beth Mazer stopped me in the foyer, breathless.
“I am so sorry about that,” she said, taking my hands in hers. “It was just an awful miscommunication. . . .” She studied my face. “You seem like such a special young woman.”
With that she folded me into her arms. It was unexpected. I fell against her with my whole body. “Good-bye for now,” she said.
When I left the Mazer-Farley house, I still carried the scent of Beth’s touch; she smelled of lavender and fermenting onions. An unpleasant smell, but also oddly comforting.
I wouldn’t say my earliest associations with Food were pleasant ones. Sang first opened the store when I was around eight years old. According to Hannah, it took him several years to have enough confidence to start another business, post-blackout. But this time he retreated closer to home, instead of opening in Manhattan like so many of his peers.
Sang was especially irritable in those early days. All of us—Hannah, Mary, even little George—lived in fear and trembling, never sure of what small thing would trigger his too-quick temper. It might have been the way the toilet paper hung from its dispenser, making the user have to inconveniently search through the roll to find where the trail began. He’d come bellowing out of the bathroom. Sometimes I was the last of the family to scramble, and I’d be left to bear the brunt of his wrath.
It was always just him and me. I was the oldest of the children, so after school Sang would pick me up and take me to work on the store, while the others stayed home. He climbed up a ladder to remove the drop-ceiling panels, and he’d pass them down to me. They were stained and moldy on the underside. When the ceilings were done, we put down new flooring. I remembered struggling with the math, trying to figure out how many tiles would fit across the length and width of the store (“Report card say you good at math. Why you not show?”), which only made the sums that much harder.
Then it came time to mark the grids across the floor. We each grasped either end of a piece of string, and Sang ran the line on a solid block of chalk he held in his hands. (Later I would learn this was his cheap alternative to buying an actual chalk reel.) How my hands shook as I backed away from Sang! When he snapped the line, the string whipped my fingers and I let go. Sang was furious. We had to redo the line several times before it was perfectly straight. Whenever I stare down at the floor tiles of Food, I can still feel the sting of Sang’s words from that day. When all the construction was done, we cleaned the floors—Sang swept, I mopped. The mop was too big and unwieldy for my hands. When I was older and we’d learn about child-labor laws at school, I’d get angry at Sang. That was against the law! You should go to jail! Then he’d snap back—Then who gonna buy your food? Who gonna pay your clothes?—which would always shut me down.
Excerpted from "Re Jane"
Copyright © 2015 Patricia Park.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Reading Group Guide
“There’s no word for it in English.” (p. 5, Re Jane)
Jane Re’s life is ruled by the Korean principle of nunchi— “the ability to read a situation and anticipate how you were expected to behave” (p. 5). Born in Korea to an American father and a Korean mother who died when Jane was just a baby, the orphaned girl was sent to live with her Uncle Sang in Queens. Now a college graduate, Jane is crushed when her entry-level job at a financial firm—and her ticket out of Queens—is eliminated.
Instead of climbing the corporate ladder at the World Trade Center, Jane returns to working alongside her uncle at Food, her family’s Korean American grocery store in Flushing. Trapped and overwhelmed, Jane continually feels “tap-tap-hae—an overwhelming discomfort pressing down on you physically, psychologically” (p. 8).
When a friend shows her an ad in the Village Voice from a Brooklyn couple seeking an au pair, Jane jumps at the chance to escape.
When Jane arrives at 646 Thorn Street, she’s not exactly sure what to expect, but she’s taken aback when handsome Ed Farley answers the door. His wife, Beth Mazer, also defies expectation—she’s an ardent feminist and academic. They are convinced that Jane will be the right fit for their nine-year-old Chinese adopted daughter, Devon.
Jane’s Uncle Sang is less than pleased with her decision to move to Carroll Gardens. But Jane herself finds life with the Mazer-Farleys intriguingly different from the striving immigrant enclave she’s inhabited until now.
A well-regarded professor of women’s studies, Beth is, unsurprisingly, also a lacto-ovo vegetarian with a strict policy banning refined sugar. She gives Jane a binder outlining the household’s many dos and don’ts, along with a stack of books intended to free Jane from “the problematic tradition of desire and the male gaze.” (p. 74).
Jane settles into a happy routine, eventually becoming Devon’s confidante and friend. And through Devon, she meets Nina Scagliano, another nanny and a born-and-bred Brooklynite who introduces Jane to the world of cocktails and clubbing. But as the strain in Beth and Ed’s marriage becomes increasingly obvious, Jane and Ed find themselves sharing a connection and understanding that soon leads to love.
Salvation from this tricky situation arrives unexpectedly when Sang pressures Jane to join the family in Seoul to attend to her dying grandfather. Arriving in Korea just as two planes hit the Twin Towers, Jane leaves behind not only Ed but a New York that is battered and grieving. In Seoul she finally meets her mother’s other siblings, learns her family history, and embarks on a journey of self-discovery that will help her understand her place in both cultures.
Engagingly written and brilliantly observed, Patricia Park’s debut novel updates Jane Eyre to contemporary New York and the world of organic produce and identity politics. Readers will cheer Jane as she journeys from Queens to Brooklyn to Seoul and back in a coming-of-age story that announces Park as a debut writer to watch.
Join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #ReJane
1. When Jane’s job at Lowood falls through, she goes straight back to working for her Uncle Sang after graduation. What prevents her from trying to find another job?
2. What does the interaction between Sam Surati and Beth tell you about Beth’s character?
3. Beth’s list of restricted foods affects everyone in the Mazer-Farley household, including Jane. What are some of the ways in which one character uses food as a means of controlling another?
4. Jane and Ed feel comfortable with one another, in part, because “we both came from decidedly unglamorous worlds, steeped in the language of vermin, water damage, building codes” (p. 73). Though coming from two different backgrounds, what similarities do they share in relation to their understanding of their identities?
5. Is Jane’s affair with Ed a bigger betrayal of Beth or of Devon?
6. When Sang arrives shabbily dressed for a family dinner, Big Uncle is furious and makes them all leave the restaurant. In the elevator, he scolds Sang, saying, “Just stay quiet if you don’t know how things work” (p. 147). How did your feelings about this scene change after you learned that it was Sang and not Big Uncle who gave their father the money to invest in Gangnam real estate?
7. Why did Sang and Hannah withhold the truth about Jane’s parents?
8. On Nina’s first night in Seoul, Emo is furious at Jane for letting her friend come home alone while she stayed out with Changhoon. Do you agree with Emo’s criticism?
9. What do you think of the decisions Jane made with Changhoon and Ed, respectively? What does each man represent to Jane?
10. Every language has words or phrases like “nunchi” or “tap-tap-hae” that don’t have an exact equivalent in English. If you grew up speaking a language other than English, is there a similarly untranslatable word or phrase that informs your own life? How well does Park depict what it’s like to grow up a second-generation immigrant in America?
11. Re Jane is a retelling of Jane Eyre. How does Park echo Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel? How does she make the story her own?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings Let me start by saying, I have not read Jane Eyre, so as I know that this is a retelling or reimagining of sorts - for me this was a fresh read. Yes, I do plan on reading Jane Eyre eventually, but there are just so many good books that come out every Tuesday it is hard to go back that far! Re Jane was such an interesting read with a character who is half Korean and half American and doesn't feel like she quite fits in with either. She has been living with her uncle and living by his rules until she is offered a job that gets her out of the home and gives her the opportunity to become an adult. A family tragedy sends her to Korea where she gets to experience the other half of herself and her family there, but ultimately she returns to New York to find her place.
Waits for Bailey((No beds))
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