Author: Min Jin Lee
Publisher: Grand Central
Type of book: Korea-America, rape, negative portrayal of Korean men who like Caucasian women, New York, 1990s, haves and have-nots, pride, kindness, marriage, relationships, family, church, faith, struggling, surviving, class, Asian women/Caucasian men relationships, money, debts, working at a bank
Year it was published: 2007
Casey Han's four years at Princeton gave her many things, "But no job and a number of bad habits." Casey's parents, who live in Queens, are Korean immigrants working in a dry cleaner, desperately trying to hold on to their culture and their identity. Their daughter, on the other hand, has entered into rarified American society via scholarships. But after graduation, Casey sees the reality of having expensive habits without the means to sustain them. As she navigates Manhattan, we see her life and the lives around her, culminating in a portrait of New York City and its world of haves and have-nots.
Free Food For Millionaires offers up a fresh exploration of the complex layers we inhabit both in society and within ourselves. Inspired by 19th century novels such as Vanity Fair and Middlemarch, Min Jin Lee examines maintaining one's identity within changing communities in what is her remarkably assured debut.
There are quite a lot of characters in the story, but I think the author is skillful in having the reader remember them. Main character includes Casey Han, a snotty and spoiled Asian-American princess who has no idea what she wants to do with herself and tends to be prickly, cold, mysterious and a smoker. She loves spending money on brand-name clothing but isn't the type to explore why she is the way the is or try to change her personality. There is also Ella Shim who seems to be the antithesis of Casey Han and is warm, vibrant, meek but passionate. Ella also likes Casey and will do what she can to help her. Secondary characters include Unu is Ella's cousin and eventually becomes Casey's paramour and he has his own issues and debts to settle. the Casey's boss from Korea who went to the same school as Casey's mother and her white husband as well as Ted Kim who becomes Ella's husband but then cheats on her with a co-worker and so forth. Way too many characters to list here.
I read the book from cover to cover and have no idea what lesson I should have learned from it; maybe to make plot more visible?
The story is in third person narrative from what seems to be everyone's point of view. I love long detailed novels, but along with the details I also require plot and lessons that characters learn along the way. I expect for characters to change and to be present when changes occur. This book, aside from being long, had nothing of what I might enjoy. The events that I would deem important or that I would hope the author would focus more on were merely mentioned or skimmed while events that aren't important are expounded on page after page after page. The only good part I liked about the book is the first part, but parts 2 and 3 seemed a bit pointless. The issues that characters face, such as Casey's never-ending clothing shopping and debts are not addressed, that is the reader never learns what Casey is trying to say by buying things she can't afford; there is also very little exploration of Delia and Ted's relationship and the story hasn't really given me reasons to like them or to even root for them. Basically its a circular journey where the reader ends up on the same page as he begins it.
(From the book)
Min Jin Lee's debut novel, Free Food For Millionaires, was one of the "Top 10 Novels of the Year" for The Times (London), NPR's Fresh Air, and USA Today. Her short fiction has been featured on NPR's Selected Shorts., Her writings have appeared in Conde Nast Traveler, The Times (London), Vogue, Travel+Leisure, Wall Street Journal, New York Times Magazine, and Food & Wine. Her essays and literary criticism have been anthologized widely. She served as a columnist for the Chosun Ilbo, the leading paper of South Korea. She lives in New York with her family.
I expected to either hate or love the story, or to even discover hidden genius within the pages, but I'm sad to say that the only thing that came to pass is boredom and indifference. Although I'm not an Asian-American woman, I am an immigrant and I honestly thought I would be able to relate to the book and to the characters, but unfortunately, it was not happening. Compared with Pachinko, this was a big letdown for me, and yes, the review might be pretty long by the way because I have a lot to say about the book. One of my main complaints is portrayal of Korean men, and not just any Korean men but Korean men who either love or have loved Caucasian women. There is nothing sympathetic or warm about neither Ted nor Professor Hong, and the changes simply ring as too false to be human or believable. The only "good" Korean man in the story is Ella's father who remained chaste and unmarried after the death of Ella's mother. It's also interesting to note that Korean women/Caucasian men relationships are portrayed as far more relatable and human than Korean men/Caucasian women relationships are. For example, the Korean woman who gives Casey her job is married to a Caucasian male and they seem to have a peaceable and tranquil relationships, while another Korean woman gets with a very sweet and sympathetic Caucasian male. Neither Ted nor Professor Hong are given those positive portrayals; Ted is an asshole from start to finish and has even cheated on his wife with a Caucasian co-worker, while Professor Hong was married to Caucasian women, but he acts like a diva and is selfish and also happens to be a rapist...yeah, nothing wrong with that is all I can say. In this story as well, nothing happens, and when I say this, I mean that characters don't learn lessons from their setbacks and the characters remain the same from start to finish. In other words, if you're expecting a hidden genius of Pachinko, this book is not it.
This was given to me for a review
2 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)