“Something happened after Jay and the two girls where Casey learned that she could climax without having affection for a man at the present moment. This was what men could do- make sex a physical sensation, not always emotional- and somewhere along the line, Casey realized that she could do it, too. Could all women?” Via: Cecile_Hoodie
Someone asked me eons ago who my favorite writer was, as a writer (shoutout to Lindsey Filowitz, it was you). I didn’t have one, because I’d never thought of it. Well not beyond childhood, where Roald Dahl and Beverly Clearly ruled. Often I read books based on synopsis, not the author. From that moment on it stuck with me, were poets and musicians included? Could I say Jim Morrison? I made a point to read books with the author in mind. Now I have a few favorites and Min Jin Lee is very much included. I recently finished her 2007 debut novel, Free Food for Millionaires, which solidified her authority as a weaver of words.
Free Food for Millionaires takes place in 90’s New York City. Two weeks after protagonist Casey Han graduates from Princeton, she returns home to Elmhurst, Queens where her abusive, blue collar father pressures her into major life decisions. After a violent altercation she is kicked out, unyielding to his world views. Everything about Korean immigrant Casey is unique, from her height, to her credit crippling addiction to luxury. She seeks to maintain the lifestyle she’s experienced amongst affluent friends, but doesn’t know how to get there while maintaining her principles. She finds herself adrift trying to navigate adulthood. Too prideful to accept help, she makes life far more complicated than necessary. She can’t help but feel envy for her rich peers, who have a safety net that eludes her. Their lives fall short in other ways though.
Min Jin Lee immerses the reader in the lives of these perfectly flawed, colorful character’s that orbit Casey’s world. Over the span of years we watch the hard knocks of adulting turn their lives upside down, dealing with topics of: classism, addiction, adultery, parenthood, love, forgiveness, GOD, lust, loss and identity. Min Jin Lee be it this book, or Pachinko (Yesu Cristo, it still gets me bro), creates such complex, well written characters, so incredibly human, you can’t help but feel empathy for them despite their actions. A reminder that anything can happen, and you never know what secrets people take to their graves. I also love her perspective, imagery, florid use of language, and life observations. Have you read any of her work? Via: The Lost Library
Clothing was magic. Casey believed this. She would never admit this to her classmates in any of her women’s studies courses, but she felt that an article of clothing could change a person, literally cast a spell. Each skirt, blouse, necklace, or humble shoe said something- certain pieces screamed, and others whispered seductively, but no matter, she experienced each item’s expression keenly, and she loved this world. Every article suggested an image, a life, a kind of woman, and Casey felt drawn by them. Via: Son Chapeau
Sunja is a pregnant teenager in the 1900’s. The baby daddy is an older married man with a sketchy profession, so sketchy she doesn’t know what he does. Bringing great shame to her family Sunja is saved by a holy man. A lodger in her parents boarding home offers her an out, by marrying her and claiming the child as his own. Sunja accepts, leaving behind her old life and moving to Japan so her husband can be a minister.
Thrown into this new world where she must endure poverty, racial discrimination, war…she is determined to provide a better life for her offspring. This book takes so many unexpected turns. Deserving of every accolade it’s received.
It’s so important to read from other cultural viewpoints, to understand that our differences make us beautiful. I had no idea how much racism Koreans faced from the Japanese. A must read.