The New York Times presented the first chapter of a newly-published book by a Korean-American woman, Min Jin Lee, entitled Free Food for Millionaires. Years ago, I read both Chang-Rae Lee and Susan Choi, but, according to Liesl Schillinger’s review, Lee’s novel looks as if it has the historical gravity and personal depth worthy of a serious read. Although I’m skeptical of the claim that han “…by general consensus, applies chiefly to women”, just tackling that issue is quite a feat.
It would be remarkable if she had simply written a long novel that was as easy to devour as a 19th-century romanceÃ¢â‚¬â€packed with tales of flouted parental expectations, fluctuating female friendships and rivalries, ephemeral (and longer-lasting) romantic hopes and losses, and high-stakes career gambles. But Lee intensifies her drama by setting it against an unfamiliar backdrop: the tightly knit social world of Korean immigrants, whose children strive to blend into their American foreground without clashing with their distinctive background. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a feat of coordination and contrast that could kill a chameleon, but Lee pulls it off with conviction.
Read the excerpt, too. If nothing else, Korean War-era Pusan is mentioned as a backdrop. But, there’s nothing like family tension in the first scene to set up a good read!