When I read the introduction to this book, I was a little skeptical. The premise of the book is that the author spends a year traveling around Latin America, discussing Spanish translations of Jane Austen novels with random people (well, mostly random). In the midst of the literary discussion, she suffers disease, pets iguanas, and falls in love.
My first thought was, Interesting, but... I've never actually cared what people in Latin America think of Jane Austen. That sounds terrible, but I've never even thought about it. This book was out of the blue for me, but I decided to give it a shot.
And I'm glad I did. I wasn't ten pages in before I legitimately began to wonder what people in Latin America would think of Austen. Smith has a pleasant style and had a keen awareness of her audience; she knew her book would be picked up mainly by Austenites, and kept a good focus on the purpose of her journey, giving plenty of screen time to the discussions and information about Austen. But she also keeps the book an upbeat travel narrative, giving descriptions and snippets of fascinating history behind the places she visits.
I was also very pleased by the way Smith approached the details of her love life. She made it clear in the introduction that her relationships would be factoring into her story (the main reason I was skeptical). I was afraid the book would become a gossip session, with Smith unable to focus on Jane Austen or anything else in the face of her passionate relationship with a suave, sexy Latin American man. Thankfully, the author stayed true to her purpose, but she still gave enough details about her romantic life to keep the narrative personal.
I really appreciated that the author, although a university professor, didn't have any pretense of being a "literary academic" looking down her nose at the Latin Americans she met, some of whom were somewhat less educated. She recognized that she had more to learn from them than they had to learn from her, and always gave credit to their opinions and insights about the books.
The discussions she wrote about were absolutely fascinating. I thought about the books in a different way than I ever have. The discussions themselves were worth reading the book for.
I personally thought this book was a much better indulgence of my personal Austenite tendencies than the modern sequels and updates of the Austen stories I've read. The book was a wonderful tribute to Austen; the illustrations of Jane Austen visiting the countries Smith visits gives the sweet idea that Smith is taking Austen on tour with her. I loved the idea of bringing Austen's novels to all the corners of the earth, for all literary people to enjoy.
This book has made me really want to dig into Northanger Abbey, which is next on my Austen list. Maybe I can get it in before Celebrating Dickens in February!