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Free Food for Millionaires, the debut novel from Min Jin Lee, takes on daunting themes of love, money, race, and belief systems in this mostly satisfying tale. Casey Han is a Princeton grad, class of '93, and it is her conflicts, relationships, and temperament that inform the novel. She is the child of immigrant Korean parents who work in the same laundry in Queens where they have always worked and are trying hard to hang on to their culture. Casey has catapulted out of that life on scholarships but now that college is over, she hasn't the same opportunities as her white friends, even though she has acquired all of their expensive habits.
The concept of free food for millionaires is the perfect irony that describes much of what Casey faces. Walter, one of her bosses, says, when a huge buffet lunch is delivered to the floor: "It's free food for millionaires... In the International Equities Department--that is, Asia, Europe, and Japan Sales--the group you're interviewing for--whichever desk that sells a deal buys lunch for everyone in the department."
Casey is ambivalent about everything--her love life, work, friendships, her family, dating a Korean man--but she seems to believe that money would sort everything out and smooth any rough spots. She works part-time for a fashion maven who would like to "adopt" her by paying for business school, but Casey can't quite accept all that she offers. She pulls back from help, digs herself deeper in debt, works like a slave during an internship and then, when she is offered the job, finally begins to realize what she might really want--and it isn't only money.
There are several loose ends left dangling, some bad behavior toward others on Casey's part and an unlikely and too coincidental passing acquaintance with an old bookseller whose wife was crazy about hats, as is Casey. When he dies, he leaves all her hats to Casey--which just might just be the start of something. The author runs out of steam after 512 pages and ends the book without really finishing it, but it is a thoughtful treatment of many of the questions Lee raises, and an emninently worthwhile debut. --Valerie Ryan
In her noteworthy debut, Lee filters through a lively postfeminist perspective a tale of first-generation immigrants stuck between stodgy parents and the hip new world. Lee's heroine, 22-year-old Casey Han, graduates magna cum laude in economics from Princeton with a taste for expensive clothes and an "enviable golf handicap," but hasn't found a "real" job yet, so her father kicks her out of his house. She heads to her white boyfriend's apartment only to find him in bed with two sorority girls. Next stop: running up her credit card at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City. Casey's luck turns after a chance encounter with Ella Shim, an old acquaintance. Ella gives Casey a place to stay, while Ella's fiancé gets Casey a "low pay, high abuse" job at his investment firm and Ella's cousin Unu becomes Casey's new romance. Lee creates a large canvas, following Casey as she shifts between jobs, careers, friends, mentors and lovers; Ella and Ted as they hit a blazingly rocky patch; and Casey's mother, Leah, as she belatedly discovers her own talents and desires. Though a first-novel timidity sometimes weakens the narrative, Lee's take on contemporary intergenerational cultural friction is wide-ranging, sympathetic and well worth reading. (May)
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An unusual novel, which stayed with me even though I read it back in 2007...
The scene with the main character and the conductor (not to do too much of a spoiler) is a... Read more
This book brings together issues of race, class, and gender. Min Jin Lee does a great job with character.Published 11 months ago by Mysterylover
Rarely has a narrator been such a detraction from a story as Frasier is in reading Lee's Free Food for Millionaires. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Alison Gardner
I highly recommend this first novel. Dickensian in scope with a soupcon of Tom Wolfe's musculairity, Lee paints a portrait of Manhattan from the immigrant's perspective, primarily... Read morePublished 12 months ago by Amy Schroeder
I read this book for the second time, and liked it just as much this time. Don't be turned off by the terrible title...it's no reflection on the content... Read morePublished 13 months ago by Devon M.