Inspired by Reading Lolita in Tehran, the literary chronicle of a year spent reading Jane Austen throughout Latin America.
All Roads Lead to Austen looked like it would have everything: a great narrator (a lit professor!), a journey through Latin America (a place I know shamefully little about), and of course, Austen. However, I didn’t connect with Smith’s work the way I wanted.
The first round was interesting – listening to the different takes on Austen’s work and how the same themes I perceive are felt in different countries around the world, some with vastly different cultures than what I grew up with. But after the first country, things started to fall apart for me.
It felt like the same thing happened over and over in each country. A struggle to find a group, a discussion about an Austen novel (those became so alike that I started to skim), and the narrator leaving the book meeting acting vaguely dissatisfied. During the middle part of her journey, Smith falls horribly ill, a terrible thing to happen when traveling alone. However, instead of canceling/moving the book groups to a different time when she felt better, she continues with the project, then whines when no one picks up her slack (she doesn’t tell any of those at her club that she’s sick). Even after she heals, she always has a complaint during the book discussions; the one that really got me is when she became irritated when they wanted her perspective.
After a while All Roads Lead to Austen simply felt repetitive. She missed her boyfriend Diego, wondered if they were really meant to be, talked about the Austen night she hosted at her school, and would throw in random tidbits about the places she visited. The first few times, I found this engaging and character building, but after the third time, I became bored. Eventually, I didn’t want to pick up the book anymore. There was no new insights into Austen and the narration slowly began to grate on my nerves. It was a relief to put this book down.