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Free Food for Millionaires Hardcover – May 22, 2007

102 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

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

From Publishers Weekly

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (May 22, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446581089
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446581080
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,545,965 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Hendry VINE VOICE on August 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Free Food for Millionaires is an excellent novel about a young, bright daughter of immigrant parents, Casey, a young woman full of potential, just graduated from Princeton in the mid-1990s. She has everything, or seems to, but can't quite realize the value in what she has. Min Jin Lee does an excellent job of conveying the New York City of the oversmart and overprivileged of that time. The title, "Free Food for Millionaires", is a reference to the free lunch provided periodically at an investment bank during that time. It's a perfect summary of the worlds Casey lives in--the striving world of her parents and the overprivileged one of her Princeton classmates, where peoples needs and wants are seemingly either denied and oversupplied. Happiness is never full--something is always missing. That lack of perfection makes this a strong novel. Lee does some interesting things with her characters--they and their stories take some unexpected turns. The novel ultimately lacks that special something to make it great--nothing compels the reader to keep reading. Casey herself, while her story is intersting, is a bit of a cold fish. The novel is intelligently written but Han jumps from one character's perspective to another, sometimes within the same paragraph, which makes the narrative a bit jumpy at times. Overall, though, this is an enjoyable read, full of flawed and human characters. This one would probably be a perfect book club read--it will give readers much to discuss.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Rachel Kramer Bussel VINE VOICE on May 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Min Jin Lee's first novel is a wonder to sink intoæand be warned, once you start, it'll be hard to stop until you're done with this dense, richly told story of interweaving characters trying to find themselves in the supposed melting pot that is New York. Starting with fresh-out-of-college Casey Han, we meet the first of many who are struggling to figure out their place in the world. In Casey's case, this starts with her place in her family, and for talking back to her Korean father, she gets a slap across the face that catapults her out of the warmth of her family and into the world, learning the hard way about love, betrayal, jobs, Wall Street, and fidelity. The slapping scene seems to tilt around the room as Lee shows us each person's wishes as they unfold, making what could seem a horrific act one much more understandable. In Lee's hands, each character, no matter how small, gets to have their say, their slice of life, their point of view explained.

It's to Lee's credit that she, as the storyteller, doesn't judge, but lets the reader draw their own conclusions about the values and choices each character makes. From Casey's traditional parents (even though we find out what lurks beneath their quiet mannerisms) to her gambler boyfriend and horny but likable boss, Lee paints a world where right and wrong blend and blur, stripping down these characters' lives until it's clear just how complex their inner turmoil and joy really are.
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58 of 69 people found the following review helpful By E. Kim on September 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a Korean American male in my early 30's and also in the Investment Banking industry I picked up this book with much curiosity and anticipation. I have to say at the end of it, my thoughts were mixed. In my life, I've lived in the environment that both the author and the main character have gone through- Korean American church life, demanding academics, traditional parents and the rush to find a reputable profession after college. In my time I've known my share of archetypes in the mold of Casey Han, Ted Kim, Joseph Han, Unu Shim and yes even the ultra innocent, tragically beautiful, but ultimately naiveté and played like a fiddle Ella Shim. These caricatures not only exist in our community, but are also recognizable and realistic.

The first half of the book I thought Lee was building up to something quite interesting, perhaps accomplishing something groundbreaking like Chang Rae Lee did in his book "Native Speaker." However, the second half of the book devolved into something that didn't say anything really and was just fodder for gossip talk. Although, there were plenty of flawed characters in this book, it seems as if the Korean Americans, both men and women, were the most dysfunctional people. The only two Korean Americans that had the best values and most consistent personalities, Ellas's father and Casey's sister, were the most underdeveloped characters. The more drama you had in your life, the more words Ms. Lee devoted to developing your character. Maybe that was Lee's point? To take the standard immigrant literary fare of the hard working and noble immigrant family and turn it on its head and write about immigrants who are just as messed up as everyone else around them. For good measure, make them a little more messed up then their non-Korean peers.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Andrew C. on February 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book from my local library based on all the great press it had received. After finishing the book, my reaction is that the praise is only somewhat deserved.

I had been looking forward to reading this book -- not only because of the acclaim, but because the author and her characters come from a background like my own -- high-achieving immigrants who had gone on to successful professional lives in New York.

Yet, just fifty pages in, I wanted to put it down. I had to force myself to read. The dialogue, especially the passages between the protagonist and her sister, and the protagonist and her friends, is so precious it's brutally painful -- a sort of artificial, too-smart-for-it's-own-good witty banter. I found myself grimacing while reading.

But that wasn't the only problem. The author also indulges in these tedious passages of exposition -- indeed, as one critic wrote, too much tell, too little show. The book is 600 pages -- it could surely have been edited down to half.

As a testament to how unnecessary the exposition is though, and as a boon for me as a reader, I was able to skim pretty quickly and get into the plot and characters. I started to enjoy the experience, and read on. To be fair, this may be because the world and the characters in the book are so familiar to me, and because the author weaves a heck of a soap opera of a story -- lots of sex and intrigue.

Following the trend of excess though, the author even takes the soap opera too far, with infidelity not only plaguing the protagonist, but nearly every other character in the book -- not just her immediate friends. If it's not a theme, it's almost a parody.
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