When Patricia Park would misbehave as a child growing up in Flushing, her mother would say in broken English, “You act like orphan,” Park remembered. “I realized that her definition of orphan meant to act in a disgraceful way that shamed your family.”
While reading Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel “Jane Eyre,” Park said she was “continually struck by these epithets that are thrown at [Jane]: she’s ‘friendless,’ ‘mischievous,’ ‘wicked,’ as if she somehow embodied these characteristics” just because she was an orphan.
Park’s first novel, “Re Jane,” released on May 5, was born when Park “realized that the Victorian construction of the orphan and the Korean post-war one had similarities, and my mind drew that link,” she said.
This modern-day version of “Jane Eyre” begins in Flushing, where half-American, half-Korean orphan Jane Re was raised by her Korean aunt and uncle. “This is my America: all Korean, all the time,” Jane says in the first chapter.
“For Jane, that’s kind of the irony: that she’s living in America but the community she grows up in feels like an extension of Korea,” Park said.
In the novel, Jane journeys to Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn, where she works as an au pair, to Seoul, Korea, and back to Queens. The author herself traveled to South Korea on a Fulbright grant to research her book.
“It was nothing like the Korea in my mind’s eye,” which was shaped by her parents’ stories, she said.
Queens readers can expect to find familiar places in the book such as Astoria, as well as Flushing staples including Northern Boulevard and the 7 train.
“For me, being a native Queensite, that 7 train has been a rickety racket for my whole life,” Park joked.
Park, who moved to the Douglaston-Little Neck area around age 9, calls Jane Eyre “an early prototype for a feminist” with a “fighting spirit. … She’s unbreakable and I love that, so I wanted to preserve that,” she said. “My Jane might at first read as meek or quiet but deep down she’s quite resilient.”
“Re Jane,” like “Jane Eyre,” is a coming-of-age novel, but Jane Re is a couple years older than her progenitor, just out of college.
“I think that’s a critical time for a lot of young adults because your formal schooling is all complete and then at this point you have to make choices that will shape your future,” said the former Center for Fiction Emerging Writer Fellow, who has taught writing at Queens College.
“As a Queens native, I feel like Queens doesn’t have much in the way of media representation and certainly not in literature,” she said. “I would love for ‘Re Jane’ to start that conversation. Queens has such a rich history and you have all these diverse ethnic neighborhoods, so in some ways ‘Re Jane’ is paying homage to the place I come from, warts and all.”
Patricia Park currently lives in Brooklyn. She read from her novel in Bayside on May 9 as part of her book tour, which will include a few more stops around the city later in May. “Re Jane” can be found in bookstores all over. Visit Park’s website for more details.