Free Food for Millionaires


Author:  Min Jin Lee

Title:  Free Food for Millionaires

Genre:  Literary Fiction, Asian-American Fiction

Publication Date:  2007

Number of Pages:  560

Geographical Setting:  New York City

Time Period:  1990’s

Plot Summary:  Recent Princeton economics graduate Casey Han finds herself caught between two worlds.  During her years at Princeton, she became accustomed to the lifestyle of the well-to-do upper middle class – fine dining, expensive clothing, golf outings – but upon leaving college, she is back in her working-class Korean immigrant parents’ two-bedroom apartment in Queens.  During a particularly explosive argument, Casey’s father kicks her out; she suddenly finds herself living off credit cards in Manhattan.  Casey flees to her boyfriend’s apartment, only to find him in bed with not one, but two other women.  Just when she is feeling the most vulnerable, Casey has a chance encounter with Ella Shim, an Upper-East-Side-dwelling childhood acquaintance.  Ella invites Casey to stay with her and her fiancé, Ted, and Ted finds Casey an entry-level job at his investment firm.  In this new chapter in her life, Casey encounters many issues and themes that will be familiar to twenty-something’s: unemployment or underemployment (though well-educated), feeble attempts to find financial stability, and discovering your adult self.  Underlying all this is Casey’s struggle to balance her Korean-American background and her Ivy-League self.  Lee takes the reader through the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of Casey, Ella, Ted and others as they transition through the world of haves and have-nots.

Subject Headings:  Young Women – Identity; Korean American Women; Children of Immigrants; Women College Graduates; Generation Gap

Appeal:  character driven, authentic, detailed, descriptive, unpretentious, reflective, multiple points of view, flawed characters, realistic characters, steady pacing, introspective, open-ended

3 terms that best describe this book: character driven, descriptive, reflective

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

Balancing Two Worlds: Asian American College Students Tell Their Life Stories edited by Andrew Garrod and Robert Kilkenny:  14 Asian-American students from Dartmouth University share their insights on identity and their struggles with race, family (especially between generations), religion, the workplace, class, and economics.  Casey’s internal struggles are echoed in Balancing Two Worlds, a poignant look at young adults in the process of uniting their backgrounds with their current point of views.

Green with Envy: Why Keeping Up with the Joneses is Keeping Us in Debt by Shira Boss:  Boss, a business journalist, uses case studies to examine the gap between our financial realities and the public image we try to project, resulting in us living beyond our means.  If you found yourself frustrated with Casey every time she made a poor financial choice, you will find yourself engrossed in Boss’s timely look at America’s spending problem.

Hats!: Make Classic Hats and Headpieces in Fabric, Felt, and Straw by Sarah Cant:  To make ends meet, Casey takes a job selling hats at a department store.  She becomes so enamored by the structure and construction of hats that she begins to take millinery classes.  In Hats! milliner Sarah Cant takes the reader through a step-by-step introduction (with photographs) to creating hats, then expands on the basics to show how to alter designs and add trimmings for hats that are both beautiful and unique.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld:  American Wife is the fictional memoir (based on the life of former First Lady Laura Bush) of Alice Blackwell, from her tumultuous Wisconsin beginnings to her husband’s ascent to the White House.  With the ascension of her family’s political and social status, Alice struggles with her newfound privileges and expectations as a public figure.  Alice’s narration is unpretentious and authentic, and Sittenfeld gives readers a reflective, character-driven novel to become lost in.

Indignation by Philip Roth: It is 1951 and college student Marcus Messner transfers from a local college in his hometown of Newark, New Jersey to the pastoral Winesburg College in Ohio to get away from his overprotective Jewish parents.  He finds himself struggling with culture clashes, the first taste of independence on a college campus, and his academics – if he flunks out or is expelled, he will likely be enlisted to fight in the Korean War.  Like Casey, Marcus’s background adds another layer to his coming-of-age experiences in this character-driven, reflective, and descriptive novel.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri: Bengali newlyweds Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli move to Cambridge in the 1960’s and gives birth to a son named, by mistake, Gogol.  As Gogol grows up, he shuns his name and his Indian background and becomes enveloped in Ivy League WASP culture.  Reflective and descriptive, readers of Free Food for Millionaires will enjoy this character-driven novel of a young man caught between these two cultures.

Name:  Mieko Fujiura


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