Min Jin Lee, in her first novel, paints a vast New York landscape that brings to mind Bonfire of the Vanities, updated 20 years. The young graduates of the “best” universities and business schools are scrambling up the ladder.
But Lee’s story is very much one of the gap between the striving immigrant parents and their children. The children are straddling the immigrant world and the cool New York City scene. Casey Han’s parents manage a dry cleaning establishment and send their two daughters into the Ivy League. Casey, unlike her compliant younger sister Tina, is full of ambivalence.
She wants success but is unable to choose a profession. She wants to reserve the right to be critical but needs support and sympathy. She feels comfortable among Koreans but wants to belong to the wider American society.
There is fantastic energy in this book about Casey’s search for her place. Casey is at once exasperating and endearing. The jacket copy compares Lee with early Philip Roth, and I think it’s an interesting and apt comparison.
Here’s an excerpt from a USA Today review as well:
As much as this is an immigrant story, it’s also an American story full of class struggle, rugged individualism, social status and above all, the money haves and have-nots. Most of all it’s an epic meditation on love, both familial and romantic.
Lee offers us love in all its tenacious and painful glory. Free Food is littered with betrayals, illicit sex, numerous levels of unfaithfulness, surprise twists and unexpected turns of the heart.
If an author is compared to Philip Roth and to Bonfire of the Vanities, she’s probably worth noticing…