Amy Elizabeth Smith, an English professor at a private California university, uses her development leave to test a theory: how do Jane Austen’s novels resonate with readers in Latin America? Do people identify with her characters and storylines? In other words, does Austen translate across time, distance, and language? In All Roads Lead to Austen, Smith explores these questions and more in six different countries, conducting Jane Austen reading groups “on the road.” Along the way, she’s immersed in the local culture, history, and literature makes valuable friendships, and… meets and falls in love with the man she is going to marry.
Yes, you heard right! Smith hooks us Janeites right off the bat by revealing that her real-life adventure has a very Austen ending—and what could be better than that? She writes in a clear, personable style that is witty, intelligent, engrossing, and filled with interesting details.
Smith’s travels begin with a Spanish language immersion course in Guatemala, followed by a romantic stay in Mexico where, on the first day, she spends all her money on books instead of groceries. She (alarmingly) becomes seriously ill with a life-threatening tropical disease, thankfully recovers, feeds tame iguanas in Ecuador, flees the police in Chile, dines on delicious food in Paraguay, and encounters tango dancers on the street in Buenos Aires.
Amusingly (at least to this reader), it seems that everywhere she goes, Smith is hit upon by men looking for a hot date. She learns the hard way that her naturally friendly disposition is unintentionally giving the wrong signals. When she innocently accepts an invitation from a (married!) older man—the doorman of her apartment building—to “have coffee, just as friends,” to her shock and dismay, he grabs her and French kisses her. Later, one of Smith’s new female friends tells her:
“You’re pretty dumb for a smart woman… First of all, you can’t be friends with Chilean men. Period. Any Chilean man asking you anywhere, unless it’s strictly work related, is coming on to you… Second… university professors do not date doormen. I’m not saying this is right—I’m just telling you how it is. This Alberto knows that university professors don’t date doormen, so he naturally assumed that if you were willing to go out with him, it’s because you were looking for some fun. You know—something physical.”