Like a lot of places the temperature has taken a bit of a nose dive in Scotland lately. Quite a few mornings this week my fellow rail passengers have been treated to the comical sight of me teetering Bambi-like across a rail station carpark covered in black ice, desperately trying not to fall on my ass. Once I eventually made it to the train though I was able to escape to the heat of South America when I opened All Roads Lead to Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smith.
If you didn’t read my last post (something you should do after this because it’s awesome. 🙂 ) All Roads Lead to Austen is about an English literature professor who takes a year-long sabbatical to explore how well Jane Austen translates in South America. Amy realised that of all the texts she taught, Austen’s were the ones that inspired the most passionate debates. Students would go on rants about which of characters were the most smackable and related some of them to people in their own lives. A lifelong traveller, Amy was curious to see whether readers in other countries would have the same reactions. With the help of friends living in South America and her own good luck, Amy set up bookgroups in Mexico, Paraguay, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala and Argentina.
There were many reasons why this book made me happy but so we’re not here all day, I’ll just stick to the top 3. One, I love all things Jane Austen (apart from rip-off sequels by other authors!) and the idea of travelling around South America, getting to talk about some of my favourite novels sounded like my idea of heaven. Like Amy’s students, many of the readers identified links with their own lives/cultures but the links were very different – the pride and social division in the stories were identified with the racial division in their countries. Also like Amy’s students, there was the same intense debate about the characters which almost got nasty when men in one group had the nerve to insult Mr Darcy!
Two, the book didn’t just focus on the bookgroup discussions and as Amy explored the countries I got to explore alongside her. I learned about the civil war in Guatemala, celebrated the Day of the Dead in Mexico, met hundreds of Iguana’s in Parque Iguana in Equador, was educated about the horrors of Pinochet’s rein in Chile and fled the police when Amy got caught up in a political demonstration, and spent happy hours as she explored the many bookshops in the literary powerhouse of Buenos Aries.
Three, I just loved Amy herself and when I finished reading I wanted to write to her and ask if she would be my literary BFF! Like us she is a total bookaholic who couldn’t control her urge to buy more and more books, and by the end of her trip had shipped home about 5 boxes worth of book purchases. 🙂 Her love of tacky souvenirs was also something I could relate to as was having a close relationship with a loving but teeny bit overprotective mother! 🙂
If you love Jane Austen, if you have the spirit of a traveller, love a bit of culture and history thrown in and have your own book buying addiction, then this is the book for you. Easy to read, easy to relate to and easy to escape from the winter blues with. Trust me, you’ll thank me!
What about you? Have books inspired you to travel to other countries?