REVIEW: 'Free Food for Millionaires' by Min Jin Lee

This book definitely surprised me.  In a good way.

Let me paint the story for you in the nuttiest of nutshells: Casey Han, a young Korean-American woman, has just graduated from Princeton.  So begins her journey to identity.

About a fourth of the way through the book, I started calling it my "Sex and the City with Ethnicity."  The lives of the characters were certainly drawn to this angle -- the rich, enviable Wall Street brokers, and Casey's taste for high fashion were certainly reminiscent of the popular collection of essays.  But there was a humbleness and familiarity to Lee's writing, where Sex and the City left me feeling cold and distant when I read it.  The only part of Lee's book I truly struggled with was the dialogue.  At times, she seemed to be writing too "fairy tale" -- some of the dialogue didn't seem genuine to me.  On the other hand: I couldn't get over how well-rounded Lee is, how well she did her research.  Everything she wrote about Wall Street, about golf, about music, about the hierarchies of business and dare I say all made sense.  I couldn't count how many subjects she broached and how believable she made it all.  Lee truly has a gift.

The novel was definitely a unique read; for me, it was especially different in its narrator's 3rd-person omniscience.  I don't know about you, but I think the last time I read a book written from that perspective was in the 6th grade.  It was a bit uncomfortable in the beginning, getting used to being in every character's head at some point, no matter their role, major or minor.  But I loved it in the end because it created a better sense of the world they lived in.  It made them all real, and no one was completely evil or completely good (except maybe Ella, whose character proved a good foil to many of the others).  It was an especially helpful aid in the theme of assimilation I found throughout the novel.  You could see each character working to be something, attaching a certain importance to their goals...and you learned what took precedence, where their lines were.  And then there was Casey, without goals, without lines, floating in the middle of it all.  It was a very interesting way to read.  I was amazed at how much having no mystery in terms of the characters' thoughts actually lent itself to the overall mystery of the plot.  What was going to happen next?  Where is she going with this? I often found myself asking.

Just now, while writing this review, I learned that Middlemarch is also written in the 3rd person omniscient point of view.  I don't want to give too much away, but I find that very interesting because Casey Han's character is always re-reading Middlemarch.  It makes me respect Lee a great deal more, the way she incorporated that sort of subtle detail into her storytelling.  And really, I'll bet a lot more of the book is the same way -- meticulously planned, but effortlessly executed.

Above all, I liked the book because you were on the journey with the characters.  The scenes were well-drawn, and each action cleanly and realistically led to an appropriate, if socially unacceptable, reaction.  I will admit I was a bit baffled by the ending.  But, c'est la vie.  It's not the ending that matters.  It's what happens along the way.

Next up:   Not sure yet.  Most likely: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte


  1. This one has been on my reading list for a while now. Since I've read your review I'm even more excited about it. I think I will make it my next library request book.

    And congrats on winning The Dread Crew! I think since you've won a copy, you get to write a review of it, and I can't think of anyone more suited to the task. Awesome!

  2. Oh yeah, I would go ahead and recommend reading Free Food for Millionaires. It started out kind of weird for me, not exactly sure how to explain...something with the writing style or how I perceived the storyline or something...but I'm really glad I kept with it. It was much different from anything else I've read.

    And thanks for the congrats. ;) Your words mean a lot.