This saga about class, society, identity, and survival from Min Jin Lee takes a look at a caste system defined by culture, education, economics, and just about every other position you can think of in 1990s America.
The book’s main character is Casey Han, the daughter of Korean immigrants Joseph and Leah Han. The Hans live by traditional Korean mores, which they try to impart to their Americanized children, resulting in frustration, joy, and sorrow. They live in a rented apartment in Queens and work in (but do not own) a dry cleaning store. A magna cum laude economics graduate of Princeton University, which she attended on scholarship, Casey has no job and a compulsive spending problem. She always seems to be living off the kindness of others, and she just can’t seem to get it together.
Tina Han is Casey’s sister. Equally smart, she attended MIT on a
scholarship and went on to medical school. Tina has a bright future as an
aspiring doctor. Ever the good daughter, Tina marries the “right” Korean
guy, but life doesn’t seem to be turning out like it should.
Ella Shim, the kindhearted, privileged daughter of a doctor, thought she
was doing everything right until the day her life fell apart.
There are a host of other characters, all equally important. Min Jin
Lee’s exceptional writing allows us to see them from all sides and gives
an intimate portrayal of poor kids who have had a taste of the privileged
world and the privileged kids already in it. (The phrase “champagne taste
on a beer budget” comes to mind.)
This complex novel is told from every character’s point of view, whether
it’s the arrogant, cheating husband or the doorman of an Upper East Side
apartment building. Sometimes too many characters can be confusing and
distracting, but here it works—thus giving the book a rich flavor readers
Free Food for Millionaires is an amazing book about real life that I enjoyed
thoroughly. Min Jin Lee’s debut novel is sure to be a bestseller. Don’t