Several years ago, I found Min Jin Lee's novel, Free Food for Millionaires on the bargain table at Barnes and Noble. At just under five dollars for a autographed hardback copy, it was a steal. I bought it, added it to my to-be-read pile and promptly forgot about it.
Fast forward to last week. Our new bookcases from Crate and Barrel have arrived and finally, my piles of books are neatly organized. For the first time in years, I have a clear idea of my TBR pile. I needed a new book, so I plucked Lee's novel off of my shelf.
Why didn't I read this sooner???
Free Food for Millionaires had me hooked from the first chapter. It's mostly a heavy family drama, but it also occasionally slides into the realm of guilty pleasure reading. There are some steamy love scenes!
The story follows the lives of several Korean characters of different generations living in New York City. Generation Gaps, in particular with regard to the younger generation that has been raised in America and wants to live a life that goes against their parent's expectations, is a huge theme. Several of the characters learn that even if they want to meet their parent's expectations, sometimes life has a different plan for them. Between embracing their new country and trying to hold on to old traditions, all of the characters, no matter their age, struggle with identity.
An added factor is religion, as many of the characters in the novel are devout Christians who find themselves in compromising situations.
I felt a strong connection to Casey Han, who is in her mid-twenties and completely unsure of every aspect of her life. She is capable of nearly anything, but her lack of focus leads her to flounder. She has trouble figuring out what she is meant to do or what career would make her happy. This inability leads her to make a series of bad choices and leaves her trapped in dead-end situations. She's imperfect and screws up, but you can't help but root for her.
Lee does a great job at bridging cultural gaps. I'm not Korean, but even with the cultural differences, I could see many commonalities with the relationships and expectations between parents and their adult children. It's not that the culture of the characters was insignificant, more that the commonalities rose above the differences.
I really found myself caught up in the story and it was difficult to put the book down. I kept stealing away time to finish it! Lee has created multi-faceted and deep characters that kept me vested in the story. I look forward to reading more of Lee's stories.