Thursday 20 June 2019

Book Review: Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee (Literary Fiction)

Title: Free Food for Millionaires
Author: Min Jin Lee

Publication Date: 2008 (2007)
Literary Fiction
Secondhand Copy from a Friend


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.

The thing I liked most about Free Food for Millionaires was its interesting commentary on the cultural divide that springs up between first and second generation immigrants, the former still attached to their old ways and the latter embracing a new identity. However, in other ways the book lost me. I found it overwritten--so much lengthy and unnecessary description, which slowed the pace to a crawl and made the 600+ pages feel like a slog. Plus, I simply couldn't stand Casey. I found her spoilt and self-entitled. I had zero sympathy for her financial situation when it was all of her own making. Her constant spending on extravagances irked me throughout and I couldn't bring myself to care about her at all when all I really wanted to do is knock some sense into her. For me, this is a 2.5-3-star read. I do recommend it as an interesting study of immigrant life in the US, but in other ways, this simply wasn't a book for me.

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