“competence can be a curse”


After over a month, I’m only on page 247 out of 835 in A Game of Thrones. I swear I’m not a dismally slow reader! It’s just that the only times I have to read are my brief commutes on the subway – I know, awful excuse. But now, I seriously need to find more time for reading, especially since I’m starting another book. It cannot wait until after I finish A Game of Thrones because who knows when I’ll be done with that one!

Last night, a big, chunky, cream-colored, hard-covered book wandered into my life. It caught my eye while I was meandering around the kitchen brushing my teeth (I hate being confined to the bathroom) – it was just sitting on the counter with “read me!” written all over it. Well, that wasn’t the exact verbiage, but close enough – the yellow post-it on the cover said, “feel free to take and keep – good summer read!” Thank you to whichever roommate left Free Food for Millionaires (written by Min Jin Lee) for me to snatch.

No lie – I thought I had sauntered on to a recipe book. And then I read the excerpt:

Casey Han’s four years at Princeton have given her many things – ‘a refined diction, an enviable golf handicap, a popular white boyfriend, an agnostic’s closeted passion for reading the Bible, and a magna cum laude degree in economics, but no job and a number of bad habits.’

Casey’s parents, who live in Queens, are Korean immigrants working at a dry cleaner, desperately trying to hold on to their culture and identity. Their daughter, on the other hand, has entered into the upper echelon of rarefied American society via scholarships. But after graduation, while Casey’s trust-fund friends see only opportunity and choices, Casey sees the reality of having expensive habits without the means to sustain hem.

As Casey navigates Manhattan, we see her life and the lives of those around her – her sheltered mother and scarred father, her friend Ella who’s always been the good Korean girl, Ella’s ambitious Korean husband and his Caucasian mistress, Casey’s white fiancé, and then her Korean boyfriend – culminate in a portrait of NYC and its world of haves and have nots.

The excerpt reminded me a little of The Joy Luck Club (written by Amy Tan), a book/movie that I’ve been meaning to re-read/watch for a while. I saw the movie when I was way too young to understand how much each character’s personal story chronicled my own life; and then I read the novel in my early teens. I remember loving the book, connecting to the characters, and appreciating the stories back then. But I feel like it’d be something I’d appreciate and understand even more so now, as a young woman. I remember admiring the way it was written, the reason why it was written, and the feeling Tan put behind her carefully chosen words and phrases.

I continued to do a little more research into Free Food for Millionaires, and I ended up stumbling across this within the first few paragraphs of the book:

As a capable young woman, Casey Han felt compelled to choose respectability and success. But it was glamour and insight that she craved. A Korean immigrant who’d grown up in a dim, blue collar neighborhood in Queens, she’d hoped for a bright, glittering life beyond the workhorse struggles of her parents, who managed a Manhattan dry cleaner.

Casey was unusually tall for a Korean, nearly five feet eight, slender, and self-conscious about what she wore… She did not believe she was pretty but felt she had something—some sort of workable sex appeal… For a girl of only twenty-two, Casey Han had numerous theories of beauty and sexuality, but the essence of her philosophy was that allure trumped obvious display.

And her biggest secret was Jay Currie—her white American boyfriend.

Unusually tall at nearly 5’8″. Ivy League. Works tirelessly in hopes of achieving the unencumbered life she dreams of. Secret white boyfriend. A refined diction. Expensive habits. Occasionally affected by her parents’ interminable financial plights and their separation anxiety from the motherland.

…much of which I could relate to, and I haven’t even started reading yet. I can’t wait to delve into this one.

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Categories: reflections & musings

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