Free Food for Millionaires is different from any book I’ve ever read — a big, juicy, commercial Korean-American coming-of-age novel, one that could spawn a satisfying miniseries, and one that definitely belongs in this summer’s beach bag.
Casey, the daughter of Korean immigrants, has just graduated from Princeton and returned to her parents’ small rent-controlled apartment in Queens to figure out what to do with her life. Within pages, her traditional father, who toils in a dry-cleaning store, beats her for insolence and kicks her out. Then, when Casey seeks refuge at her longtime boyfriend’s apartment, she discovers he’s been cheating on her (with two girls at once — ouch).
These events catapult Casey to a place far removed from the one she always imagined; instead of enrolling at Columbia Law School, she navigates her own way, working at a dress shop and then as a sales assistant at a Wall Street brokerage, all the while juggling an assortment of men. Meanwhile, her dutiful sister, Tina, copes with medical school, marriage, and a baby, as her mother, Leah, always the submissive wife, is seduced by a church elder. Lee’s writing can be clunky (”As a capable young woman, Casey Han felt compelled to choose respectability and success. But it was glamour and insight that she craved”). Even so, Casey’s story is a fabulous one, taking her — and the reader — to some unexpected places. B