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All Roads Lead to Austen: A Year-long Journey With Jane by Amy Elizabeth Smith

All Roads Lead to Austen: A Year-long Journey With Jane is Amy Elizabeth Smith's first book.  Smith is a tenured university professor in California who teaches literature; she specializes in Jane Austen novels (and is an Austen enthusiast), and she teaches a course in Austen novels.  The premise of this book was to travel to six different Central and South American countries to meet with both formal and informal reading groups to discuss various Jane Austen novels.  The groups read Austen in Spanish translation, and Smith wanted to find out if these readers connected with and reacted to Austen's novels in the same way that her students back home did.  Smith also wanted to find out if Spanish language readers thought Austen's themes were universal enough to translate across time and cultures.

Ya'll know I'm a sucker for an English period drama.  I've seen all of Austen's novels in film adaptation form (but sadly have never any of her novels).  So when this book popped up in the new titles list on the online catalog of the library website, the Austen in the title is what grabbed my attention.  Intrigued, I thought I'd give this book a try.  And overall, I'm glad that I did.

The introduction and first pages of the first chapter were slow and at first I wasn't sure the story would keep my attention.  However, after a few chapters I was all in.  The slowest parts of the book for me were when the author was describing the geography and physical settings of the countries.  The most fascinating were the descriptions of the reading groups' interactions and reactions to the Austen novels as well as the discussion of cultural differences, the gender roles in the different countries, and the history of each country visited.

The author's various personal struggles with the language barrier and her health as well as her account of her fledgling (mostly) long distance romance also add many layers to the story.  I also enjoyed reading about her trips to local bookstores and identified with her love of books, reading and acquiring various used and new books.  However, as someone who can spend hours perusing titles in a bookstore or a library, I have long ago committed to acquiring my reading selections pretty much solely from the local library system.  (This has saved me much money and book shelf space and makes the most sense for someone who never re-reads a book.)

As part of her literary adventure the author asked those who participated in her reading groups to recommend authors from their countries who were important to their national literature, were required reading in school or were very popular, best selling authors.  Reading about these authors and the literature scene in these countries and how it differs from American or British literature was also pretty interesting.  Through these authors and their works, Smith also touched a little bit on the history of each nation's literature and the development of each country's respective national literature.

While this book's built in readership is obviously Jane Austen enthusiasts, fans and scholars, ultimately I think any book or literature lover and anyone who considers themselves an avid reader will enjoy this book.  People who like to read about travel will also enjoy this book and it's original approach to the genre of travel literature.  I hope you will check this book out the next time you visit the library.

--Review by Ms. Angie


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