Smith is an English professor at Pacific University where she has the opporutnity to teach Austen's novels. Faced with the question of what to do during her first development leave year away from the university, Smith decided to travel to six different countries in Latin and South America and read Austen's novels in Spanish with people in each of these unique countries to see if the popularity and perceived universality of these works translated as readily as the words on the page. First Smith had to learn Spanish though, at least enough to discuss the books with native speakers.
After a five week stint in Antigua learning Spanish, Smith set out on her year-long exploration of Austen's appeal for non-English speakers who not only don't share a language with Austen but who also live in far different cultures than that with which Austen was familiar. The six countries she chose were Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay, and Argentina. In some of the countries, Smith would have friends, acquaintances, or contacts of some sort who would help her organize her Austen reading groups. In others, she would leave things to chance. She chose to read three different novels, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice, twice each.
Divided into chapters set in each country, Smith does a good job introducing readers to the six different countries and their inhabitants. Part travelogue, part Latin and South American history, part personal memoir/romance, and part literary examination, Smith's story is accessible and entertaining. She took the precaution of taping the book club discussions so that she could accurately transcribe them, especially when her Spanish is stretched a bit. She shares the wonders and problems with traveling so far from home, the culture shock, the fortuitous surprises, and the genuine welcome she receives everywhere she goes. She cheerfully exposes her own gaffes and quirks to the reader as she moves from country to country. Her enthusiasm for each of these different countries and the people she meets in them and the bookstores and the local literature is contagious and engaging. And what she discovers about the universality of Austen's novels will probably not surprise any Janeite. Appealing and fun, Smith's year-long adventure is a wonderful, humorous, and personal read.