One of the most unexpected Austenesque books I read this year was All Roads Lead to Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smith. Smith took a year to visit in six Latin American countries where she set up reading groups to read the most popular Jane Austen novels. How would women (and more than a few men) respond to that most English of authors? Would Austen’s highly mannered, highly restricted, narrow style appeal across cultures not just once but several times?
Dear Reader, it would. The book is a wonderful look at how Austen’s take on men, women, and manners transcended very different societies in Guatamala, Mexico, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Argentina. Smith is a professor but this book is not a textbook or a dry paper. The tone is light and breezy, even when it could have turned fairly somber (Good God! She survives dengue! And riots! But dengue!)
Look, we already know that Austen is going to be popular across cultures. Even though she gives us a glimpse into an era that is long gone, her real appeal is that she succinctly and expertly provides us a glimpse into human nature. Modernize the language and we know all of these characters. We recognize her dialog. We went to middle school with her mean girls and we have had friends like Marianne. Maybe some of us are Marianne. All right, Captain Wentworth (oh, that letter!) is too good to be true, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t want him to be true.
But what a way to prove it. All Roads is light-hearted and engaging, and when Smith meets her own Mr. Darcy, who she pursues (yes, Amy, you did) in a most un-Janelike fashion (Mrs. Bennet would have approved) it all ends up happily ever now.
Even with dengue.
Want to read it? As always, tell me in the comments and I’ll choose a winner. US and Canada only, please.