Book Review: All Roads Lead To Austen

All Roads Lead To Austen: A Yearlong Journey With Jane, by Amy Elizabeth Smart

This is the sort of book that appeals to a Janeite [that is, a fan of Jane Austen, especially of a literary and intellectual bent [1]] who loves the humor and drama of international travel and has a certain soft-spot for both books and romance. I am not exactly sure how many such readers like that there are (probably many, given the enduring popularity of Jane Austen among both intellectuals and more ordinary folks, a rare achievement for an author), but I know for certain that I am among the target audience for this book and found it to be full of wit and good situational humor and romance, all of which I greatly appreciate in books and in life. This is the sort of travelogue that gets turned into a hilarious romantic comedy of sorts, and it would make a good movie with excellent casting and as much of the rich dialogue covered in the book as possible.

What makes this book such a joy to read is that it manages to combine a few different and wonderful elements together. For one, it is a book about a single 40-something professor of English literature whose love of Jane Austen and books in general (she reads and buys a lot of books, leading to some major luggage and storage woes, something I can appreciate) and her quest for romance lead her to travel to six Latin American countries in order to conduct meetings with readers in Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay, and finally Argentina, where [spoiler alert] she meets her Mr. Darcy. On one level this book serves as a fascinating travel memoir, with a sympathetic and precise eye for character as well as recounting humorous occurrences and a love of long conversations over good food. The author, like me, apparently has an interest in using Jane Austen novels as a way of exploring romantic longings, something I found rather intriguing, and something that has been a characteristic behavior within my own life.

On other levels, this work also functions as a work of intellectual depth, in showing how Jane Austen’s novels remain relevant far outside of their original context, in that people in all six of those countries could relate to the characters and to the similar struggles that people face for love and respect. Jane Austen’s novels provoked comments about the gossipy nature of small towns, feminist concerns about the perspective of women, questions about politics and class and religion, as well as a recognition of the skill Austen possesses in understated wit and small but telling details about people and situations that ring true even long after they were originally written. These matters show up time and time again in the conversations I have had about Jane Austen and in my own reflections on her art.

This book, in its rich combination of intellectual, humorous, and romantic threads, manages to serve both as a reminder of distinctiveness in cultures as well as our common human nature. Above all, this book manages to do what Jane Austen did, and that is examine the concept of pueblo in the context of both place and people. The memoir is full of rich commentary about the tragic history of Paraguay [2] and other nations, the nefarious nature of American involvement in many Latin American countries (which ended up saving Paragauy’s status as an independent nation, so it’s not all bad at least), and intriguing details about the people that she meets and the books that they recommend to her. I can give this book no more honest or flattering of a description than to say that it would be the sort of book I would write if I ever had a successful trip when it came to romance. Like Austen (and this author) I would much rather write a comedy than a tragedy about such matters so close to the heart.

[1] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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