Loving it as I do, I’ve wanted to read Min Jin Lee’s previous novel for some time now. While also focusing on characters of Korean descent (although these characters live in the New York area, not in Asia), it’s a contemporary story instead of a historical one.
As with her second book, Free Food for Millionaires works to define the nature of family relationships, of dealing with more than one culture at a time, and with the role of women in what can be only described as a male-dominated society (both traditional Korean society and the culture of Wall Street).
The many splendid things the author does in her second book are hinted at in her first as well, but I have to admit, I find her first book frustrating–possibly because of how much I adore Pachinko.
Lee’s narrative powers show through in her earlier work. She simply writes terrific prose. But the dialogue in her first novel is sadly cringe-worthy on a number of occasions. The Wall Street “bro” culture and dialogue is especially bad. To be fair, I honestly don’t know if it’s weak dialogue, or if it’s the way it was read for the audiobook. (I read this one along with the audiobook, except for the portions I listened to while driving on a long trip.)
So let’s talk about the audiobook. I’m not a fan of readers who try to adopt different voices for each character. Unless the reader is amazing at it, it just doesn’t sound convincing or natural. So that wasn’t helpful, but what really set me on edge was the outrageous number of words and names the narrator mispronounced–even getting the character names backwards on occasion. Someone getting paid for her performance should have gone to the trouble to research how to pronounce everything correctly.
That aside, Pachinko is still amazing and my ambivalence toward her first novel won’t stop me from lining up for Min Jin Lee’s next novel. Just don’t make us wait ten years for it.