All Roads Lead to Austen – Amy Elizabeth Smith
Sourcebooks Inc., 2012
When an opportunity opens for Californian university lecturer Amy Elizabeth Smith to turn her love of Jane Austen into a cross cultural literary experiment, she sets off on an ambitious quest – an entire year travelling through six South American countries, sharing Austen’s novels with strangers and seeing how well they translate to the people of 21st century Latin America. From sunny taxi drivers to combative booksellers, she encounters Austen fans in the most unlikely of places. Along the way she has to overcome her own prejudice, come to understand the roots of another culture’s pride – and decide what to do when her own love story takes over.
Austen is so classic an author in English-speaking countries that it was particularly fascinating to see how people who had never read or even heard about her before reacted to the different novels. As an Australian, it was equally interesting for me to hear what North Americans think of her characters and style. Smith’s descriptions of both the places and people she encounters on her journey are enthusiastic but disjointed and a little awkward; she also dwells a bit too much on her own cultural gaffes. Overall, though, the sheer ambition of her plan prevails, producing interesting debates and unexpected friendships. If anything, it shows how universal the love of a good book can be.