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Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee
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Free Food for Millionaires (2007)

by Min Jin Lee

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Simply a good read ( )
  Violette62 | Jun 8, 2017 |
GREAT BOOK BY THIS KOREAN AUTHOR. THE MAIN CHARACTER IS KOREAN BY ANCESTRY BUT AMERICAN BY BIRTH AND HER WANT TO BE THOUGHT OF AS AN AMERICAN. LIVING IN NYC AND ARGUING WITH HER TRADITIONAL FATHER AND THROWN OUT OF HIS HOME SHE GETS A JOB AT A BROKERAGE FIRM AND IMMEDIATELY GETS IN DEBT BY BUYING CLOTHES AND LIVING THE LIFESTYLE OF THOSE AROUND HER. HER ACHIEVEMENTS AND FAILURES ARE ALL BASED ON HER WANTING TO BE SOMETHING SHE IS NOT. ( )
  CheryleFisher | Apr 26, 2017 |
I very much enjoyed this melodrama. Set in New York in the 90's we live through some emotional roller coaster rides witnessing the lives of young Korean-Americans making and living with their life choices. The narrative is third person omniscient. The subjects are mostly beautiful and gifted and driven. There is sex and fashion and earnest Christian activity and almost no physical violence and some evidence of humor and wit. I found some incidents painful to read but I had a hard time putting the book down. ( )
  joeydag | Jul 23, 2015 |
After graduating from Princeton, Casey Han returns to her parents’ home in Queens, having acquired expensive tastes as part of her four years of education. After she is kicked out by her father, Casey drifts through life without purpose, racking up debt as she struggles to determine what to do next. Without the help of her friend Ella, the perfect Korean-American daughter with the beauty of a model, Casey would be on the street. Ella’s fiancé helps Casey get a job at his investment firm, although he and Casey loathe each other, but the stark contrast between the haves and have-nots only adds to Casey’s frustration.

Although the story jumps around between viewpoints a lot, Casey is the main character. Bluntly, she is a bitch. Terrible with money, believing she’s entitled to more than she can afford, petty and mean to family and friends, Casey is often an extremely unpleasant person. As someone who spent much of my twenties drifting aimlessly, I understand how frustrating it is to be young and not sure of what you want to do. (I imagine the feeling is only magnified when you graduate from a school as prestigious as Princeton, surrounded by other students who are all much wealthier than you.) But Casey’s poor treatment of others makes her incredibly difficult to like. I felt disappointed in her, over and over again.

However, I think this is a sign of the strength of the characterization. Casey is a hot mess, but she’s a realistic one. I can feel disappointed in her because I can believe in Casey and her potential. We all know someone who seemed so full of potential but seemed determined to self-destruct rather than realize it, right? Two other women also stand out: Ella Shim and Leah Han (Casey’s mother), both genuinely nice, kind-hearted women who end up getting screwed by the men in their life. Ella is shy and quiet; as a child she was in awe of Casey’s boldness, and wanted to be her friend. As adults, the two women connect, and some of Casey’s attitude eventually inspires Ella’s own courage. Leah is an old-fashioned Korean wife who cares deeply for her family, but in her own way she’s as harsh as her daughter. Leah’s frosty reaction to Casey’s white boyfriend deepens the rift between Casey and her parents just as it was beginning to heal, but this matriarch remains the glue holding her family throughout the novel.

Free Food For Millionaires starts and stutters, jumping around in time. Often, stories are abruptly truncated. In one chapter, for example, Casey goes with timid Ella to see her wedding dress. When it’s clear that the dress neither flatters Ella nor is what she truly wants to wear, Casey immediately begins badgering the sales girl into taking it back. The story cuts away without letting the reader know how Casey finally got the return to go through, or how the two women decided what Ella would wear instead. I was disappointed, because the event was obviously a huge step forward for their friendship and it was left incomplete.

The story also veers toward soap opera dramatics. I didn’t mind it, because the characters are so well-drawn, but the constant peaks and valleys of drama might drive some readers up the wall. Sex and infidelity feature frequently and prominently. There’s also an attempted suicide, dramatic divorce, gambling addiction, and a rape scene.

The story is set in the 1990s, which I found somewhat amusing because I don’t remember that being a particularly great decade for hats, but this particular fashion accessory becomes Casey’s trademark. She works in the hat department in her friend’s department store, and is recognized several times for her fashionable ensembles, complete with perfect hat. References to certain celebrities and TV shows also help ground the book firmly in the 90s (as does the lack of dependence on the Internet) but the relationships and family drama are timeless. ( )
  makaiju | Jun 6, 2014 |
Fabulous! All of the characters have so much depth. It's an amazing story--very well written. ( )
  goet0095 | Mar 27, 2014 |
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Epigraph
Our crowns have been bought and paid for-all we have to do is wear them.

-James Baldwin
Dedication
For Umma, Apha, Myung, and Sang.
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Competence can be a curse.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
"Competence can be a curse."

So begins Min Jin Lee's epic novel about class, society, and identity. Casey Han's four years at Princeton have given her many things-"a refined diction, an enviable golf handicap, a popular white boyfriend, an agnostic's closeted passion for reading the Bible, and a magna cum laude degree in economics, but no job and a number of bad habits.

Casey's parents, who live in Queens, are Korean immigrants working at a dry cleaner, desperately trying to hold on to their culture and identity. Their daughter, on the other hand,m has entered into the upper echelon of rarefied American society via scholarships. But after graduation, while Casey's trust-fund friends see only opportunity and choices, Casey sees the reality of having expensive habits without the means to sustain them. As Casey navigates Manhattan, we see her life and the lives of those around her-her sheltered mother and scarred father, her friend Ella's ambitious Korean husband and his Causcasian mistress, Casey's white fiance, and then her Korean boyfriend-culminate in a portrait of NYC and its worlds of haves and have nots.

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0446581089, Hardcover)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:18 -0400)

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"Goodbye, Columbus meets the novels of Amy Tan in this American story of class, society and identity that marks the debut of a new voice in fiction"--Provided by the publisher.

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Tantor Media

An edition of this book was published by Tantor Media.

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