What a great book! I couldn't put it down, and I look forward to this author's next book (this was her first). The protagonist, Casey, is the daughter of Korean immigrants, and after graduation from Princeton she finds her self without a clear plan for her future. She leaves home due to conflicts with her father, and struggles throughout the book with family issues, money, career, love, and friends. The book offers a good view of the Korean American community, as well. I just lent it to a friend, but will post it if I get it back.
I started this book and was really enjoying it, but mid-way through it I started to get really bored. The story just seemed to muddle along and it appeared that there was going to be no climax to the story. Consequently I got tired of it and skimmed and didn't really finish the last third of the book. I do like the authors style of writing, I just think the book is just a little longer than is necessary.
In this debut novel, Lee does provide insights into the life of Korean-Americans, but for me a much bigger theme was that of dealing with life post college. The main character, Casey Han, has no clear direction in life, and struggles to find her own way. Used to the lavish lifestyles of her friends in college, Casey digs herself further and further into debt. She believes money to be the solution to everything, but turns down the offer for free business school. Slaving away as an intern at an investment company, she is offered a position, but is no longer sure that is what she wants. Throughout the novel, Casey works towards things that she believes will will solve her problems and make her happy, only to find out that she never really wanted them to begin with.
Casey is the perfect example of the recently popularized "quarter-life crisis". She's impressionable, lost in the "real world" and unsure of where she wants to go in her life and her relationships. I really think that this novel will strike a chord with recent college graduated who will recognize a little bit of themselves in Casey Han.
This book was so interesting I ended up reading it twice. The female protagonist has a much different mindset then any your typical and delving into her character alone is worth reading the book for. Another thing that makes this book stand out is that the viewpoint of all the character's in the book are all almost equally expressed and with such deftness. While, of course, this has been done before I have rarely seen anyone so adept at dong so and exploring so many sides of a thing. You get that a lot of this is personal to the author which makes it even more remarkable.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish. The storyline was interesting and well-written, and I never lost interest (although it is a very long book). This author has a very concise style of writing that just pulls you in and makes it hard to put the book down.
To quote a review from Pubishers Weekly - "A noteworthy debut - Lee's take on contemporary intergenerational cultural friction is wide-ranging, sympathetic and well worth reading." This book has a very interesting array of characters and situations that they find themselves in, delves into many real life contemporary issues, and has excellent descriptive qualities. It took me a chapter or two to get into it, but once I became interested in the characters, I really enjoyed their story lines. I would agree with other reviewers that there are a couple of loose ends I would have liked to seen tied up alittle neater before the book ends, but perhaps that was the author's intent? If you are looking for a nice, long read that flows nicely and holds your interest, I would highly recommend this book.
After reading this book, I could not disagree with this review found on Amazon.com. This book left me hanging.:
There are several loose ends left dangling, some bad behavior toward others on Casey's part and an unlikely and too coincidental passing acquaintance with an old bookseller whose wife was crazy about hats, as is Casey. When he dies, he leaves all her hats to Casey--which just might just be the start of something. The author runs out of steam after 512 pages and ends the book without really finishing it, but it is a thoughtful treatment of many of the questions Lee raises, and an emninently worthwhile debut. --Valerie Ryan
I'm surprised by the negative reviews here, but of course everyone has different tastes in books, so I'll have to chalk it up to different strokes for different folks. As a second generation Asian American woman, I could instantly relate to the heroine in this story. The only other book that captured the second generation immigrant experience as well is Jhumpa Lahiri's book, "The Namesake." You're forever caught between the expectations of your hard-working immigrant parents who emigrated to America (or some other Western country) for a better life, and the cultural norms of the non-Asian culture you're brought up in. You're not firmly rooted in the Old Country or the new domicile. That feeling of wanting to belong and not belonging is captured so well by Min Jin Lee in this book.
The heroine is well-educated, funny, quirky and complicated. She's a modern woman with an active sexual life and past, but she's also the good Asian daughter who does very well in her university studies at an Ivy League university. She's a much smarter version of Becky Bloomwood in the Shopaholic series. This book is not chick lit, but the two characters both share a penchant for spending money on things they can't afford.
There's a cast of characters who range from other second generation Korean Americans to a Puerto Rican doorman. The one character whose backstory I really wanted to know wasn't given a first person voice. We only see her from the point of view of the heroine. I would wanted to know how the multi-millionaire, Sabine, got to where she did starting from nothing and only speaking in broken English. There are so many layers to this book that it's something you can read multiple times without getting bored. The plotting could be better and the I didn't like the ending. It was much too ambiguous, which I guess was the point, but I needed more finality. What happens to Ted? What about Unu? Does Casey ever work full-time for Sabine? I docked a point for the ending, but I consider this book one of my favorites
Casey Han is a Korean immigrant who grew up in Queens. She faces many of the same problems of other immigrants -- fitting into a new culture -- as well as some that even native children face clashes with her parents expectations versus her own desires. But there are things about Casey that arent obvious like the fact that every day she reads a Bible passage, writes it down and contemplates it. She also likes to make hats and devotes quite a bit of time to learning the craft.
Her parents work in a dry cleaning business with hopes of seeing their two daughters succeed. Her sister, Tina, is going to become a surgeon, and Casey, who has just earned her Bachelors in Economics from Princeton, is expected to study law or at the very least, go to business school (B-School.) Neither option appeals to Casey.
After a terrible fight, her father kicks her out of the family home and Casey heads over to her white boyfriends apartment to stay with him. A boyfriend that her parents do not know about and would not approve of because he is not Korean.
She arrives at her boyfriends apartment to find him actively engaged in a ménage-a-trois. She leaves there and spends the evening in a high-end hotel that she really cant afford.
The next day, she runs into a Korean-immigrant acquaintance from her church, Ella, and learns that Ella has always desired a close friendship with her and when Ella learns that Casey needs a place to live; she invites Casey to live with her until she figures out what she wants to do.
Throughout her journey, Casey has many people who act as benefactors in her life Ella; her sister, Tina, who gives her money the day she is kicked out of her home; Sabine, her boss at the job she worked through college and during the story; her bosses at the investment bank where she eventually lands a job; a used bookseller who befriends her, etc.
Each of these people tries to help Casey and she is not always as receptive as you would expect to their assistance. Especially since she seems to consistently be making decisions that work against her best interests, mostly financially. She runs up huge debts buying expensive clothes, meals out, etc.
As Casey struggles to adjust to life in America as an adult, her friends and family also go through the same struggles. Some of the struggles come from conforming to the cultural expectations: Ella marries Ted, who is also the son of Korean immigrants, but their marriage fails; her sister Tina marries a Korean man but chooses to become an epidemiologist rather than a surgeon and this greatly upsets her father who has told everyone his daughter will be a surgeon; her mother is raped by the music director at her church, but blames herself for the rape. (I, personally, love how Casey gets back at him for the rape when she finds out about it.)
This is one book, where there were many times that I found the protagonist to be a bit of a twit especially when she consistently goes on spending sprees for clothing when she has other bills to pay. But, she is struggling for her place in a culture that she understands but her parents dont. She sees her non-Korean counterparts doing what they want to do with their lives and getting support from their families, but she doesnt get that.
I felt that it brought forth many of the struggles that immigrants face as they try to integrate their lives and values into a society that often does not mirror their lives and values.
Great book about the struggle second generation/1.5 generation Korean Americans go through dealing with the traditional Korean culture their immigrant parents want and expect of them while at the same time dealing with American cultural norms as well. Loved the book!