Instead of reporting to their usual British Literature classes, students of English teachers Dr. Emily Moore and Annie Thoms walked into the library on Thursday, November 29. They were greeted by Patricia Park, the author of “Re Jane,” a book both classes had just finished studying.
This is the first time “Re Jane” was included in the British Literature syllabus. The book is a modern-day retelling of Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre.” Park’s protagonist, Jane Re, is a half-American and half-Korean orphan. Like Jane Eyre, Jane Re flees from her adoptive family to start a life of her own. However, unlike its source of inspiration, “Re Jane” discusses issues such as racial identity and the development of New York City in the early 2000s.
Thoms’s class read both novels in full and drew comparisons between the two, while Dr. Moore’s class read excerpts from “Jane Eyre” to provide background for “Re Jane.” “I thought that was a way to make the original text more relevant and applicable,“ Dr. Moore said. “One of the things the British Literature curriculum is definitely not is Asian American, but our students are much more Asian American than British. I wanted some way to connect these two.”
Park herself proved relatable to the students, as a New York City native and former student at the Bronx High School of Science.
”She seemed really down-to-earth. She talked about what kind of student she was, and about the things she was unsuccessful at,” Assistant Principal of English Eric Grossman said. “She was good at putting students at ease and speaking to them informally.”
Park read excerpts from her novel, and then took time to answer students’ questions. “I asked about the role that faith played in the book,” senior Sheldon Peng said. “She said that faith wasn’t actually important, and that Koreans tend to go to church as a social gathering, instead of as a religious thing.”
Others were more interested in Park’s personal relationship with the novel. “I thought the novel would be somewhat autobiographical, but it wasn’t,” senior Solomon Medintz said. “So I found it interesting that Park [is] still related to this novel. Although not an orphan herself, she talked about how being a Korean person with predominantly white friends sometimes made her feel like an orphan.”
“Another Korean-American student […] asked for advice on navigating two cultures,” Park said in an e-mail interview. “I wish I had a better answer for him—it’s something I continue to deal with, sometimes on an hourly basis.”
Overall, Park hopes that her writing will provide students with hope. “As a student at Bronx Science, I really struggled to find my place,” Park said. “I hope they find a community they feel they belong to—whether it’s at Stuy or the world beyond.”
She is currently working on her second novel, which is set in the Korean community of Buenos Aires during the Argentine Dirty War.