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The daughter of Korean immigrants, Casey Han has refined diction, a closeted passion for reading the Bible, a popular white boyfriend, and a magna cum laude degree in economics from Princeton, but no job and an addiction to the things she cannot afford in the glittering world of Manhattan. In this critically-acclaimed debut, Min Jin Lee tells not only Casey's story, but al The daughter of Korean immigrants, Casey Han has refined diction, a closeted passion for reading the Bible, a popular white boyfriend, and a magna cum laude degree in economics from Princeton, but no job and an addiction to the things she cannot afford in the glittering world of Manhattan. In this critically-acclaimed debut, Min Jin Lee tells not only Casey's story, but also those of her sheltered mother, scarred father, and friends both Korean and Caucasian, exposing the astonishing layers of a community clinging to its old ways and a city packed with struggling haves and have-nots.


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The daughter of Korean immigrants, Casey Han has refined diction, a closeted passion for reading the Bible, a popular white boyfriend, and a magna cum laude degree in economics from Princeton, but no job and an addiction to the things she cannot afford in the glittering world of Manhattan. In this critically-acclaimed debut, Min Jin Lee tells not only Casey's story, but al The daughter of Korean immigrants, Casey Han has refined diction, a closeted passion for reading the Bible, a popular white boyfriend, and a magna cum laude degree in economics from Princeton, but no job and an addiction to the things she cannot afford in the glittering world of Manhattan. In this critically-acclaimed debut, Min Jin Lee tells not only Casey's story, but also those of her sheltered mother, scarred father, and friends both Korean and Caucasian, exposing the astonishing layers of a community clinging to its old ways and a city packed with struggling haves and have-nots.

30 review for Free Food for Millionaires

  1. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    3.5 stars While not as iconic as her sophomore novel Pachinko , Min Jin Lee's literary debut Free Food for Millionaires still stands as an important and entertaining read with a wide cast of characters. As a couple other reviews on Goodreads noted, you might have to be Asian - and more specifically, a child of immigrants - to fully appreciate the themes and events Lee portrays in this novel. Through her characters, she portrays complex Asian American family dynamics as well as the fight for up 3.5 stars While not as iconic as her sophomore novel Pachinko , Min Jin Lee's literary debut Free Food for Millionaires still stands as an important and entertaining read with a wide cast of characters. As a couple other reviews on Goodreads noted, you might have to be Asian - and more specifically, a child of immigrants - to fully appreciate the themes and events Lee portrays in this novel. Through her characters, she portrays complex Asian American family dynamics as well as the fight for upward mobility imposed on and embarked upon by so many immigrants in the United States. Indeed, one of the most admirable themes in Free Food for Millionaires was money, capitalism, and the extent to which characters cut down others and/or parts of themselves for monetary wealth. Similar to her work Pachinko, Lee also provides insightful commentary on issues of gender, showing the suffering and resilience of Asian American women in particular. She does not hesitate to highlight the racism of white men and the misogyny of men in general, which I appreciate. I leaned toward giving this book three stars because its middle dragged with some narratives I found unnecessary or too long, but a couple of brilliant scenes related to gender and fighting sexism toward the end of the novel pulled it up to four. And while the characters in Free Food for Millionaires did not blow me away, I found Casey's characterization consistent, nuanced, and well-written, so fitting for such a protagonist who is so distinctly her own. Overall, recommended if the blurb intrigues you and you do not mind a long book. We need more Asian American writers like Min Jin Lee so I am very excited for what she will release next.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Unlike the majority of the reviewers, I liked Casey Han. I found her pursuit of higher education, materialism, desire for religion, lust, need for independence, mass credit card debt, love of fashion, and the way she constantly seemed to disappoint her family quite realistic. Despite the fact that Casey is willing to walk away from her family, her cheating American boyfriend, her Korean boyfriend, and refuses help offered by her long-time family friend all in the n I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Unlike the majority of the reviewers, I liked Casey Han. I found her pursuit of higher education, materialism, desire for religion, lust, need for independence, mass credit card debt, love of fashion, and the way she constantly seemed to disappoint her family quite realistic. Despite the fact that Casey is willing to walk away from her family, her cheating American boyfriend, her Korean boyfriend, and refuses help offered by her long-time family friend all in the name of independence, she never quite manages to make it on her own. She falls back on her new best friend, men, and Sabine all throughout the story. In the end, despite $23,000 in credit card debt and an even larger student loan, she ends up with literally nothing thanks to her gambling, evicted ex-boyfriend. This book also gives an outsider a glimpse inside homes and relationships of Korean-Americans. This is the first Korean-American book I have read and now I would like to read more. I also hope to have the chance to read more from Ms. Lee in the future.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    Update 7/15: I'm not reading any further. I just can't stand the way Lee writes. It's like Edith Wharton's clumsy cousin wrote a book, and then piped it through a Babelfish translator into chicklit cliches circa 2001. With a small dash of Korean culture for seasoning. An unsympathetic protagonist is a challenge for any novelist, but especially for one who writes so horribly. Sure, Lee has won a number of prizes and the book's been well reviewed in a number of places, but I just couldn't read it. Update 7/15: I'm not reading any further. I just can't stand the way Lee writes. It's like Edith Wharton's clumsy cousin wrote a book, and then piped it through a Babelfish translator into chicklit cliches circa 2001. With a small dash of Korean culture for seasoning. An unsympathetic protagonist is a challenge for any novelist, but especially for one who writes so horribly. Sure, Lee has won a number of prizes and the book's been well reviewed in a number of places, but I just couldn't read it. 7/7/07 Only about 10 pages into a largeish novel. The topic -- Korean-American inter-generational conflicts-- seems promising but the main character is kind of annoying -- and her traits (like always dressing according to fashion magazine advice) seem a bit too much in shorthand. But I'll give it another couple of evenings.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bishop

    I had been waiting for a long time to read the book. It was a page turner, peopled by overachieving kalbi eaters (my kind of people), full of sex, and ultimately... not all that. Actually it was kind of weak. Maybe it's me, but major plotlines involving getting internships while in business school (oh, sorry, B school) are not the stuff of dreams. And how many love triangles/illicit love affairs/star-crossed romances can a 550+ page book support? Apparently less than seven? The characters were i I had been waiting for a long time to read the book. It was a page turner, peopled by overachieving kalbi eaters (my kind of people), full of sex, and ultimately... not all that. Actually it was kind of weak. Maybe it's me, but major plotlines involving getting internships while in business school (oh, sorry, B school) are not the stuff of dreams. And how many love triangles/illicit love affairs/star-crossed romances can a 550+ page book support? Apparently less than seven? The characters were introduced so clumsily that you knew from the first moment that they'd end up as somebody's paramour, or that they'd have an affair, or that they'd end up happy and in love, true love! That being said, I did stay up late on more than one occasion reading this reverse-engineered telenovela.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    Most of my reading is contemporary lit fiction. Keeping that in mind, I disagree with allegations that this is chicklit or poorly written (which wasn't the view of the NYT Book Review either, btw). For me, this novel was thoroughly engaging--hard to put down, full of charm and wit, and rich with interesting interludes into characters' backgrounds. Yes, the way that it goes into those characters' backgrounds is modeled on 19th century novels, but I didn't find that dull -- for me, the book has en Most of my reading is contemporary lit fiction. Keeping that in mind, I disagree with allegations that this is chicklit or poorly written (which wasn't the view of the NYT Book Review either, btw). For me, this novel was thoroughly engaging--hard to put down, full of charm and wit, and rich with interesting interludes into characters' backgrounds. Yes, the way that it goes into those characters' backgrounds is modeled on 19th century novels, but I didn't find that dull -- for me, the book has enough contemporary flow and style that I continued to be interested (which is good, considering that I hardly ever read 19th century novels these days). True, the first time I realized that we were going to hear the thoughts of each character, I was a little taken aback--but I got used to this. In general, I loved the book, as I said. My only criticism would be that sometimes the pronoun usage was confusing -- occasionally when two characters were being mentioned in the same sentence, the pronoun usage was unclear. To refer to this as chick-lit is not to get it, I think. I look forward to Lee's next book. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/01/boo...

  6. 4 out of 5

    mindful.librarian ☀️

    I LOVED this book! After reading and loving PACHINKO last spring, I knew I would need to come back to read this one and I am so so so happy that I did. Casey is such a flawed character, but she's flawed in so many of the same ways that I am.....and this made me love her so so so much. She may just be my new favorite book character, with her stubbornness and unwillingness to do what is expected of her. I love the way this book addresses immigration and class and wealth, too. The gambling addictio I LOVED this book! After reading and loving PACHINKO last spring, I knew I would need to come back to read this one and I am so so so happy that I did. Casey is such a flawed character, but she's flawed in so many of the same ways that I am.....and this made me love her so so so much. She may just be my new favorite book character, with her stubbornness and unwillingness to do what is expected of her. I love the way this book addresses immigration and class and wealth, too. The gambling addiction of a secondary character also really hit home for me, as people near to me have suffered greatly from this. Highly highly recommended. Also, VERY different from Pachinko!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Cathy

    if i'd actually paid attention when i was applying to college, this might be an accurate reflection of my life. and if i was korean. and if i was religious. and if i liked making hats. "free food" follows the post-college years of casey han, a queens-born ivy league grad who's undergoing one of those infamous "quarter-life" crises. the author, lee, keeps you interested by letting you peek into the minds of her employers, boyfriends, family, and friends. she also gets the "1st generation asian" sto if i'd actually paid attention when i was applying to college, this might be an accurate reflection of my life. and if i was korean. and if i was religious. and if i liked making hats. "free food" follows the post-college years of casey han, a queens-born ivy league grad who's undergoing one of those infamous "quarter-life" crises. the author, lee, keeps you interested by letting you peek into the minds of her employers, boyfriends, family, and friends. she also gets the "1st generation asian" story spot on and i felt she was reading my mind with a lot of her character insights. i thoroughly enjoyed this book and will be rereading it. you may need to be asian to fully appreciate how carefully and accurately she depicts the class/culture clashes, but her male/female relationships are relevant to anyone who's ever been in love/lust.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    This is an epic length novel that's not an epic. It's a portrayal of life within the ambitious and high achieving Korean-American community in New York City during the 1990s. The book also aspires to be a romance novel of the 19th century style but with modern mores (i.e. lots of sex and not so much marriage). As one would expect the conflict between traditional Korean and urban American culture is examined. Another theme are differences between those who are wealthy and those who wish they were This is an epic length novel that's not an epic. It's a portrayal of life within the ambitious and high achieving Korean-American community in New York City during the 1990s. The book also aspires to be a romance novel of the 19th century style but with modern mores (i.e. lots of sex and not so much marriage). As one would expect the conflict between traditional Korean and urban American culture is examined. Another theme are differences between those who are wealthy and those who wish they were wealthy. We soon learn that these same differences between rich and poor are also very real within the Korean-American community. And in the traditional Korean culture we also learn that being from the wrong place in Korea can make a difference. However, the most visible theme of the book is the variety of male-female relationships with the book providing examples of just about every possible variation between good/happy to bad/sad. The book makes an obvious hint to be compared with the plot of Middlemarch. The story notes that our protagonist has read it multiple times. For readers who found that the 19th century Middlemarch didn't include sufficient explicit sex will find that this book makes up for it with a double dose. There is also a reference to Jane Eyre but the parallel to that novel's plot is less obvious. I think the author was trying to say that this book is being written in the tradition of famous 19th century romance novels which probably explains its length. The title of the book comes from an observation about ambitious investment bank brokers. The wealthiest were the ones most likely to elbow their way to the front of the line when the doors were opened to a free food smorgasbord. In other words, they had no qualms about accepting free gifts. Meanwhile, those of limited means were reluctant—or too proud—to accept the smallest gift because it might indicate an obligation or dependence on others. The author's writing certainly shows an understanding of what it is like to be a member of a supportive faith community. In this case it is a Korean-American Presbyterian Church that at an official level are united by a common faith. But at a more practical level they are united by a common ethnic culture and real human friendships. This is a community that will come and visit when a member is sick. If the member is in the hospital they will visit their room and sing some hymns, causing people down the hall to turn and take notice. It seems that every character in this novel manifested behavior at some point that I found either unwise or unacceptable. But the story made them real and very human. The skilled writing of the narrative kept me interested even though I couldn't identify closely with the characters. The following is from the PageADay Booklover's Calendar, July 2012: WORD-OF-MOUTH HIT Casey Han is a Korean American ivy league graduate torn between the worlds of her immigrant upbringing and her spoiled college friends—the latter a swirl of expensive clothes, adulterous affairs, a sharp divide between rich and poor, and in the investment firm where she works, the free food of the book’s title. Casey’s struggle to find her place in the world goes a long way to explaining why she travels everywhere with Middlemarch. Lots to talk about here. No wonder Free Food for Millionaires is a book-club darling. FREE FOOD FOR MILLIONAIRES, by Min Jin Lee (Grand Central, 2008)

  9. 4 out of 5

    Hubert

    ***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS*** This book could have been trimmed by about 100 pages, but nonetheless I enjoyed it in the way I enjoy Guiding Light. Will they kiss? Oh my the unaccepted boyfriend is going to make a scene with her parents! Oh my! This soap opera of a novel takes us through the life of a young Korean-American Princeton graduate who's surrounded by other upwardly mobile Ivy graduates while she herself perpetually can't get out of debt on account of her shopping addiction. The fi ***SPOILERS***SPOILERS***SPOILERS*** This book could have been trimmed by about 100 pages, but nonetheless I enjoyed it in the way I enjoy Guiding Light. Will they kiss? Oh my the unaccepted boyfriend is going to make a scene with her parents! Oh my! This soap opera of a novel takes us through the life of a young Korean-American Princeton graduate who's surrounded by other upwardly mobile Ivy graduates while she herself perpetually can't get out of debt on account of her shopping addiction. The first chapter itself initializes with too much of a bang in my opinion, and peters out throughout with not enough 'bangs'. I think the best parts of the novel concern the older generation, the mother and father, their fellow church-goers, parents of their friends. Their episodes are written with a subtlety, delicacy, and poignancy that are lacking sometimes when she writes about the main character Casey or her business i-banking cohorts. I am probably more tussled by the New York Times review of this book. The reviewer Schillinger notes that Lee's strength lies in her ability to garner the reader's "appreciation of the usual." That much I admit. But how is the "drama intensifi[ed]" by being set in an "unfamiliar backdrop" of the "tightly knit social world of Korean immigrants"? Logically that would mean that Korean-American New Yorkers would find the plot less dramatic? Odd. Despite my misgivings I do recommend the book. The reading is fast, the characters portrayed sometimes in such caricature that I find myself chortling at them and their portrayal, and all in all somewhat fun and entertaining, and written well if somewhat wordy (carry a pencil with you and practice your copy editing skills). And remember, with energy prices at record highs, it's cheaper than turning to ABC's Days of Our Lives.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jody

    *2012..the year I gave out so many five star ratings, I'm shocking even myself.* This book has been called by one reviewer the 'post-feminist' version of 'Bonfire of the Vanities'. Others have panned it because the characters are unlikeable to them. My own experience is I didn't want the book to end. I'm still thinking about Casey, Leah, Unu, Ella and the other fully formed characters--even minor ones-- that seemed to step off the page. Not only is this a novel of the Korean-American experience *2012..the year I gave out so many five star ratings, I'm shocking even myself.* This book has been called by one reviewer the 'post-feminist' version of 'Bonfire of the Vanities'. Others have panned it because the characters are unlikeable to them. My own experience is I didn't want the book to end. I'm still thinking about Casey, Leah, Unu, Ella and the other fully formed characters--even minor ones-- that seemed to step off the page. Not only is this a novel of the Korean-American experience and Wall Street culture (both of which I was completely unfamiliar with), it's also an incredibly articulate and meticulous character study of the basic human themes of love, betrayal, integrity, failure, success and the quest for happiness. The characters are imperfect which makes them life-like and sometimes truly are unlikeable, yet the author, Min Jin Lee, has the gift of helping us understand the reasons they take the wrong path or hurt someone or hell, even wrack up credit cards as they struggle to find their identity. I love character study based novels, the kind that seem to do an autopsy on the human condition. This novel did just that and more. I feel like I had a relationship with the book. Sometimes it pissed me off and other times it had me nearly crying but it made me feel. And that's why I read. Intelligent, wise and beautifully written.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Siria

    I picked this up because it got a glowing review in the NYT, and because the blurb made it sound like the exact kind of thing I would be interested in: the daughter of poor Korean immigrants, who made it to Princeton and now hopes for a career as an investment banker; the immigrant experience, the intersection of social classes and ethnic groups. Those elements were there, but where I was expecting an in-depth exploration of them, what I got was a melodramatic soap opera—and a poorly written one I picked this up because it got a glowing review in the NYT, and because the blurb made it sound like the exact kind of thing I would be interested in: the daughter of poor Korean immigrants, who made it to Princeton and now hopes for a career as an investment banker; the immigrant experience, the intersection of social classes and ethnic groups. Those elements were there, but where I was expecting an in-depth exploration of them, what I got was a melodramatic soap opera—and a poorly written one at that. Warning bells were going off from the very first chapter of the book, where Casey confronts her father and leaves her family's home: it's wildly melodramatic, especially without the set-up to support the drama of the scene; the dialogue is weak; POV switches wildly between very short paragraphs; exposition of the entire lives of all four characters is dumped on us within the opening pages; it's emotionally shallow; and it doesn't live up to its promise, because what I thought would be a major thread in the book (tension between father and daughter) fades quite rapidly. The problems of that first chapter are the failings of the whole book in microcosm. Lee tries to do interesting things: to show Korean American urban life, the struggles of an agnostic with atheism, what it's like to work on Wall Street, the difficulties of keeping a relationship alive—but her attempts to examine all these things are so half-hearted and lacklustre that they are often dropped within a couple of lines. The book likewise falters to a strange and unsatisfying halt after about seven hundred pages; I blinked at the conclusion and was left with only a bewildered question as to who exactly had edited this mess.

  12. 4 out of 5

    EP

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. At a whopping 600-plus pages, the "poverty" theme felt like constant hammerblows, which was just tiresome (for a contrast as to how "poverty" can be rendered thematically in narrative that will touch you to the bone, check out Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina). Casey the protagonist, as complex as she is, seems to veer between two extremes: being unhappy and whiny about not having any money and being unhappy and whiny when she's being offered help with money. She's unhappy and whiny eve At a whopping 600-plus pages, the "poverty" theme felt like constant hammerblows, which was just tiresome (for a contrast as to how "poverty" can be rendered thematically in narrative that will touch you to the bone, check out Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina). Casey the protagonist, as complex as she is, seems to veer between two extremes: being unhappy and whiny about not having any money and being unhappy and whiny when she's being offered help with money. She's unhappy and whiny even when she's enjoying the finer things in life (e.g. at her last farewell dinner with her colleagues from the i-bank, she's presented with a set of fabulous golf clubs, and she complains and bitches about that). At times, one felt like giving her a good hard shake: you have a Princeton degree, a law school offer to Columbia, a job at one of the most prestigious bulge-bracket investment bank, and if she had been able to keep at it, an NYU Stern business school degree. It's more than what 95% of "poor people" in America have. Add to that a wardrobe full of designer clothes, hats galore, and poor as she is, she's given presents like Rolex watches and Hermes scarves. Really, why is she bitching all the time? That's not the only annoying thing. The mother feels like a stereotypical, cartoonish Korean submissive-demure first generation Asian -- to the point that although she'd lived in America for the better part of her adult years, she was unable to fight off her choir director's sexual assault, and later, unable to recognize it as "date-rape" and even worse, did not realize she was pregnant. Is this woman for real? On which cloud-lala does she live? There's a limit to which the non-awakened "Asian submissiveness" can be pushed to. The other characters in this book are no less stereotypical: cookie cutter types that fail to break through their molds and worse, they fail to enliven the set pieces and situations into which the writer has thrown them. Ted, for example, is your stereotypical asshole Korean machismo -- a lying, traitorous investment banker, ambitious and voracious and crass. Ella, his wife, again the demure, submissive type, religious to a fault, the perfect angel through to the end. In Casey's love-interest -- Unu -- lies the sole glimmer of redemption for this story and yet, although a dark horse with his gambling obsession, he comes across as bland and uninteresting, ultimately. He is an anti-hero, he rescues Casey from her poverty, but fails to rescue himself. The plot also skips choice-scenes that might have hurtled this story over and above the cross-cultural confrontations that cloud its pages: e.g. the reconciliation scene with the father at the hospital could have been more drawn out; the choice of "no" dialogue" seems strange for the mouthy Casey while too much space in that same sequence was devoted towards a bland, uninformative conversation between Tina (Casey's sister) and the father. Again, the scene when Casey goes on her first date with Unu could have been developed and shown -- it might have given us a clue as to the future dynamic of this couple. I'd have liked that intervening scene when Casey takes back her cheating boyfriend. She leaves him with her stuff in garbage bags and next thing we know, they're living together and engaged to be married. This story is rife with ripe plotpoint potentials like these that remain unexplored and unmined. It's de rigeur nowadays in "high-brow" literature to end with the door closed-window open effect, and here, the door-closing, I suppose, is Casey's decision to drop B-school, turn down the Kearn Davis investment banker offer, and make hats for a living. The unresolved "window-open" effect is whether she and Unu will get back together. And yet, I find myself completely unsatisfied at the end of this labor of narrative -- forcing myself to finish by sheer will and time-investment. What about the father-daughter relationship? What about the mother? How will she face the rest of her life? Lastly, the prose is flat and monotonous to the point of driving me stir-crazy. Every sentence in a progression of paragraphs would begin "Sabine did this", "Casey did this,""Unu did this", "Tina did this". After reading two pages of praise for this book from America's finest reviewers, I'm left wondering: are the standards for writing good literature different for minorities? Am I supposed to laud the writer's effort here because she's a "sister"? By selling a minority writer short, are we not ultimately selling ourselves short?

  13. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

    Completely absorbing--I was eager to return to these characters each night as my treat after a long day. Loved the omniscient point of view; it's rare in the fiction I read that I can get inside the mind of each character, and so unlike my normal life where I only get to know what I'm thinking. The author moves so deftly between characters too, even within the same paragraph. I've read clunkier versions where each chapter heading is a new character and their voice alone, but Lee seamlessly shift Completely absorbing--I was eager to return to these characters each night as my treat after a long day. Loved the omniscient point of view; it's rare in the fiction I read that I can get inside the mind of each character, and so unlike my normal life where I only get to know what I'm thinking. The author moves so deftly between characters too, even within the same paragraph. I've read clunkier versions where each chapter heading is a new character and their voice alone, but Lee seamlessly shifts between one character's thoughts and another in the same scene. In one passage the main character, Casey, checks into a hotel. And for one brief moment you shift to what the desk clerk is thinking when he checks her in, and then back to Casey. It's a marvel when this is done well. And then the actual story is good too--a contemporary tale of a young Korean woman finding her way in Manhattan. Lots of good themes explored here--the immigrant experience in America, how class affects your choices, what you make of your talents in this life.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Fluet

    finished this book--and, I think I finished it just so I could be really thorough in any descriptions of why I disliked it so much. Min Lee is writing in one of my favorite genres--something like the upward mobility/bildungsroman for the scholarship student, but that's about all that I find to recommend this book. If I had to sum up quickly--this book takes itself REALLY seriously, and is INTENSELY UNHUMOROUS. Not that she has to be funny, necessarily, but this is also a book that meditates upon finished this book--and, I think I finished it just so I could be really thorough in any descriptions of why I disliked it so much. Min Lee is writing in one of my favorite genres--something like the upward mobility/bildungsroman for the scholarship student, but that's about all that I find to recommend this book. If I had to sum up quickly--this book takes itself REALLY seriously, and is INTENSELY UNHUMOROUS. Not that she has to be funny, necessarily, but this is also a book that meditates upon the problem of debt (student loan, credit card, etc.) among college-educated 20-30 somethings. Since I know debt intimately, I think you have to approach it with at least SOMETHING LIKE a sense of humor. I mean, as anyone with rolling credit card debt knows, there is something pathetically funny about continuing to pay for food and clothes that you bought, consumed, and most likely gave away, years ago. But everything debt-related that happens to this protagonist is a surprising, horrible shock to her--she, like the novel, has NO sense of humor; she's smart, and therefore automatically assumes that life post-college should come much more easily. When it doesn't, she's surprised, over and over again--and one would think that she'd get the hang of things sooner, lose the smart-girl sense of entitlement (we all have to lose it at some point) and recognize, as everyone who went to college in the '90s knows, that GPA is not directly proportional to post-college income. Also, this book has what I will call a really moronic "porn ex machina"--if you get to the last few pages, you have that in store for you.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chris Wolak

    Love these characters, even the assholes. Did not want the story to end.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Sammis

    There are two good things about Free Food for Millionaires: the title (taken from the free lunches offered to investment bankers) and the cover art. That's about it. The remaining 500 pages drag through endless chapters of Casey and her acquaintances trying to get on with their lives. Some of the characters grow and learn over time but the main character, Casey, doesn't do a damn thing in this book. She's apparently good at investment banking and good at millinery (free food for milliners?) but There are two good things about Free Food for Millionaires: the title (taken from the free lunches offered to investment bankers) and the cover art. That's about it. The remaining 500 pages drag through endless chapters of Casey and her acquaintances trying to get on with their lives. Some of the characters grow and learn over time but the main character, Casey, doesn't do a damn thing in this book. She's apparently good at investment banking and good at millinery (free food for milliners?) but terrible at making decisions and even worse at running her own life. Although she has a number of people falling over themselves willing to mentor her, she never sticks with a plan long enough to see it to completion and to get some stability in place. Instead she just burns through her friends, mentors and potential employers like the numerous cigarettes she chain smokes throughout the book. Without a likeable central character, there is very little motivation to suffer through endless pages of product name dropping, lengthy descriptions, and sex scenes that fail to titillate. When I finished the book (and still nothing had happened by the last page), all I could do was give a sigh of relief to move onto something more interesting.

  17. 4 out of 5

    P.

    I found this far too long. It's quite a thick book, and I can't help thinking the story could have been edited down to become a more dynamic, involving plot. The characters were also a bit stale. I coldn't relate to many of them. They were either too selfish, or far too giving. Lee's characters weren't very likable. Like the majority of people, I also didn't like Casey Han. I found her 'wonder woman cuffs' silly. Although there was nothing wrong with her towards the end of the book, the way she k I found this far too long. It's quite a thick book, and I can't help thinking the story could have been edited down to become a more dynamic, involving plot. The characters were also a bit stale. I coldn't relate to many of them. They were either too selfish, or far too giving. Lee's characters weren't very likable. Like the majority of people, I also didn't like Casey Han. I found her 'wonder woman cuffs' silly. Although there was nothing wrong with her towards the end of the book, the way she kept messing up her life and those around her made me mad. I think overall, this story does have potential, it offers an insight into the Korean American way of life, the adversities they went through, and how they have shaped their identity in the US. Having said that, the Korean men in this book got given quite a bad reputation. Almost all of them are two-timing, rapist, self-centred, egotistical male chauvinistic pigs. I didn't quite agree with that. I don't think this book deserves the literary raves it's getting. Amy Tan did much, much better with Joy Luck Club. Go read that.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    The protagonist of this well-told tale is a bright young woman, independent-minded, a Princeton graduate, interning unhappily in a Wall Street financial firm, applying to grad school without enthusiasm, ricocheting among boyfriends, more interested in fashions than anything. She is not quite lovable, but she's recognizable. Her Korean-born parents, living a simple hard-working immigrant life in a Korean community, are miles away from her, culturally. That's something that many of us can recogniz The protagonist of this well-told tale is a bright young woman, independent-minded, a Princeton graduate, interning unhappily in a Wall Street financial firm, applying to grad school without enthusiasm, ricocheting among boyfriends, more interested in fashions than anything. She is not quite lovable, but she's recognizable. Her Korean-born parents, living a simple hard-working immigrant life in a Korean community, are miles away from her, culturally. That's something that many of us can recognize, and it's presented wonderfully well. The plot reminds me of "Far from the Madding Crowd" and also "A Suitable Boy", as the heroine struggles through options in her life and winds up someplace that sounds "right", that we may not have seen coming. This is the best novel (plot, writing, insight, satisfaction to the reader) that I read in 2008.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    For starters, here is Amazon's review: "Casey Han's four years at Princeton gave her many things, 'But no job and a number of bad habits.' Casey's parents, who live in Queens, are Korean immigrants working in a dry cleaner, desperately trying to hold on to their culture and their identity. Their daughter, on the other hand, has entered into rarified American society via scholarships. But after graduation, Casey sees the reality of having expensive habits without the means to sustain them. As she For starters, here is Amazon's review: "Casey Han's four years at Princeton gave her many things, 'But no job and a number of bad habits.' Casey's parents, who live in Queens, are Korean immigrants working in a dry cleaner, desperately trying to hold on to their culture and their identity. Their daughter, on the other hand, has entered into rarified American society via scholarships. But after graduation, Casey sees the reality of having expensive habits without the means to sustain them. As she navigates Manhattan, we see her life and the lives around her, culminating in a portrait of New York City and its world of haves and have-nots. FREE FOOD FOR MILLIONAIRES offers up a fresh exploration of the complex layers we inhabit both in society and within ourselves. Inspired by 19th century novels such as Vanity Fair and Middlemarch, Min Jin Lee examines maintaining one's identity within changing communities in what is her remarkably assured debut." I take issue with Amazon's description of Casey's parents as "desperately trying to hold on to their culture and their identity." Perhaps this is what Lee wanted to represent, but she does not develop those two characters well enough to make this clear. Character development is Lee's downfall in this novel. Her main character, Casey Han, apparently learns nothing in the course of the novel; instead, she skitters through life, making rash decisions. While not wealthy herself, Casey knows a lot of wealthy people so she never really faces consequences of her choices; someone wealthy always steps in and saves her. It gets tedious. Lee also has a bit of a problem with point of view. She jumps from one character's voice to another--and occasionally she does this in the same paragraph--with no clear reason for doing so. Worse yet, the voices are not entirely distinct from one another, so sometimes you don't realize you've shifted until something doesn't make sense and you have to go back to find where the shift was. The pacing of the book is rough as well. Lee goes from jumping months ahead to crawling through a single day. Not much keeps the reader glued to the narrative; you could easily put it down for months at a time. Despite all this, it isn't a terrible read, just a mediocre one. I think she's got talent but needs to develop that talent and get herself a good editor. FREE FOOD FOR MILLIONAIRES does give one an interesting exploration of a part of American culture that I, for one, have never been a part of. The privileged characters in the book have worked their butts off to become privileged; most are immigrants and beat the odds. Casey could have been a fascinating character, but she isn't. What she is, though, is a vehicle through which the reader gets to see the world of New York high finance.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Peter Mathews

    Free Food for Millionaires belongs to the genre I absolutely hate the most: chick lit masquerading as literary fiction. Supposedly the book is an homage to great Victorian novels such as Middlemarch, but really, no. Not even close. The main character, Casey Han, is at the center of a parade of cliches: struggling immigrant parents who are emotionally distant (and even cruel), a desire to be socially mobile that takes her to Princeton, a bad relationship with an American boy that ends in tears, an Free Food for Millionaires belongs to the genre I absolutely hate the most: chick lit masquerading as literary fiction. Supposedly the book is an homage to great Victorian novels such as Middlemarch, but really, no. Not even close. The main character, Casey Han, is at the center of a parade of cliches: struggling immigrant parents who are emotionally distant (and even cruel), a desire to be socially mobile that takes her to Princeton, a bad relationship with an American boy that ends in tears, and lots of catty I-love-you-I-hate-you encounters with other women. Basically, Free Food for Millionaires is chick-lit melodrama at its most indulgent. It is narcissistic, status-obsessed, and full of imaginary victimhood. Yes, life is unfair and capitalism sucks, but that is something you are not allowed to complain about if your superficial protagonist dresses according to the advice of fashion magazines and thinks that agnosticism is a philosophically edgy move.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bookworm

    What a waste of time! I've had this book for at least of couple of years after buying it as a bargain book. I finally got around to it, thinking that it was time for a big grand epic for the weekend. This was one of those highly touted books, although I don't recall the hype when it was released.   Casey is a young woman who graduated from Princeton with no direction. She hasn't landed a prestigious job, she isn't getting married, she's living with her parents. The daughter of immigrants and she i What a waste of time! I've had this book for at least of couple of years after buying it as a bargain book. I finally got around to it, thinking that it was time for a big grand epic for the weekend. This was one of those highly touted books, although I don't recall the hype when it was released.   Casey is a young woman who graduated from Princeton with no direction. She hasn't landed a prestigious job, she isn't getting married, she's living with her parents. The daughter of immigrants and she is starting to feel the pressure, particularly from her father. The book opens with an argument between Casey and her father, which ends in blows. Casey leaves in a huff, hoping to find solace with her boyfriend Jay. Who is having sex with two women when Casey flees to his place.   I'll admit, I was really turned off by the start of the book. It felt like a big info drop with setting up Casey's background and family history. Then it started becoming eye-rolling and soap opera-ish with her disagreement with her parents, finding out her boyfriend (or not) was cheating on her, and with Casey pretty much having nowhere to go.   Since I wasn't all that familiar with this book I didn't know it was supposedly trying to adapt the Victorian novel into a modern setting. Goodness, is that what the author was trying to do? The text is nearly unreadable, with far too much detail, no character development, soapy dramatics, etc. I don't really keep to any particular rule, but after 100 pages or so I realized there really wasn't much of a plot. I asked myself why I was reading this and decided to skim.   The book really doesn't get much better as it goes along. There's a sexual assault towards the end of the book, just as a warning.   I really wanted to like the book and see past the unlikable protagonist. But the author just made it too hard for me. Reading this book in 2016 made me think Casey is *exactly* what people can't stand (and stereotype) in the current millennial generation with apparently no ambition, seemingly rather disengaged with the world, and remains unsympathetic.   Skip it. I want to support diversity in publishing and thought this would be an interesting POV to read, but this is a terrible book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    Train wreck! This book and Casey Han’s life are best described as train wrecks. I did not want to see the bloody carnage that is this book, but like any good rubber necker I couldn’t help but stare! That is the problem with this book – I did not like the characters, I did not like the book, but I could not stop reading! I’ve never experienced a book such as this – where I was engaged and intrigued to learn more about the debacle that is Casey’s life, but overall I did not like the book. I could Train wreck! This book and Casey Han’s life are best described as train wrecks. I did not want to see the bloody carnage that is this book, but like any good rubber necker I couldn’t help but stare! That is the problem with this book – I did not like the characters, I did not like the book, but I could not stop reading! I’ve never experienced a book such as this – where I was engaged and intrigued to learn more about the debacle that is Casey’s life, but overall I did not like the book. I could not relate on any level with Casey’s character and she was so full of stupid mistakes and double standards it was frustrating. Casey look advantage of the generosity of so many people, but did very little to show appreciation or return the generosity. Were we suppose to like Casey as the underdog, heroine of this book???? If so, Ms. Lee missed her mark by miles. Lee’s character development of Casey and company is weak and poorly executed. The constant bouncing of narration perspective made me feel like I was watching a tennis match – back and forth, back and forth. Lee switches perspective in mid-scene without warning. This makes for a confusing storyline until you eventually come to expect it, but damages the fluidity of the story. Did we really need to know the inner thoughts of EVERY character in this novel? What’s wrong with writing a novel from the perspective of 1, 2 or even 3 characters? Don’t even get me started on the ending! I finished the book and then flipped to the next page. I thought “surely there must be more – it can NOT possible end in this manner!” Sadly (or may be happily, since the 500+ page love/hate relationship with this book was finally over!) it was THE END. I was briefly left wondering how many more lives Casey Han will pile up in this multi-train wreck that is her life. While I might be curious, I’m not curious enough to read the sequel (if Ms. Lee ever dares to revisit Casey and her band of misfits). Thanks goodness for the library – it saved me $15 and major buyer’s remorse (two things Casey Han knows NOTHING about!!)!!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gisela Hafezparast

    Probably more a 3.5 Very interesting story both about the lives, culture and attitudes of Korean Christian immigrants and their mainly American born children. This is a mixture of relief of having escaped war and poverty, part integration into a new society, extreme hard work sometimes with clearly huge rewards and sometimes with none, keeping hold of your own cultural heritage whilst having to cope with a new culture and ways of life. What marks these people out for me is their toughness and lac Probably more a 3.5 Very interesting story both about the lives, culture and attitudes of Korean Christian immigrants and their mainly American born children. This is a mixture of relief of having escaped war and poverty, part integration into a new society, extreme hard work sometimes with clearly huge rewards and sometimes with none, keeping hold of your own cultural heritage whilst having to cope with a new culture and ways of life. What marks these people out for me is their toughness and lack of self-pity even when they go through very tough times. Amazing, but of course it also brings a lot of problems especially for the younger generation. The other theme which runs through this book is how expensive education is in the USA and how tough it is for people from a poorer or even normal middle class background to pay for university education, which is nuts! Every nation on this earth needs their people to be as educated as possible. This is good for all of society. So why make it so hard and probably often impossible for talented people to get educated whilst rich people's offspring can get through because of the bank of mum and dad even if they don't deserve it and won't really be an asset to society. Incredibly stupid. There are some really great characters in this book, drawn very realistically, even if they are really not very likable. Whilst I admired the toughness of the main character Casey Han I didn't like her because of the way she acted towards others. However, the extreme tough circumstances she kept having to face (sometimes through her own fault, sometimes not), made it nearly understandable, but it also shows what effect having to cope in this environment, especially with the worries of how to afford paying for your education, has on a person and therefore on society. The hardness radiates from person to person to society in my humble opinion. I couldn't help thinking if Casey Han had been born in Sweden or Denmark and benefited from the fantastic social and educational system of these countries, she would have most likely turned into a very different person. I believe she would have had the chance to contribute to society more than she was clearly going to do in the USA at the end of this book. Food for thought especially for American, but also increasingly British voters in my humble opinion.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Gloria

    Perhaps I just don’t get it since it’s modeled after 19th century novels and I tend to stick with contemporary writers. But if 19th century novel means writing that lacks depth, preposterous dialogue, a repellent protagonist, and prose that flows like backed up pipes, I think I’ll stick with Masterpiece Theatre for my fill of the Victorian era. Lee was so narrowly focused on recreating the Victorian style that she failed to develop a style of her own. Instead, the writing strikes as fanciful, doi Perhaps I just don’t get it since it’s modeled after 19th century novels and I tend to stick with contemporary writers. But if 19th century novel means writing that lacks depth, preposterous dialogue, a repellent protagonist, and prose that flows like backed up pipes, I think I’ll stick with Masterpiece Theatre for my fill of the Victorian era. Lee was so narrowly focused on recreating the Victorian style that she failed to develop a style of her own. Instead, the writing strikes as fanciful, doing a lot of telling rather than showing. Since we're only told what the characters are (slapping histories in like afterthoughts), Lee does not convey empathy for her own characters. That's why they're all dislikable. Also, this lady is out of touch with the voice of an American 22-year old. The exchange between Casey and Tina on the roof is painfully false. On page 21 Casey says to Tina: "You're awfully funny tonight." Well I reckon it's also a capital day, guv'na. I understand that it's tough to be an Asian American writer, given the pressures from the community since it is rare for our stories to get published or for the matter marketed like Free Food (Haruki Murakami does not count as Asian American). But it is problematic when your opening chapter substantiates every screwed up stereotype about a community (even more problematic when the characters are not rounded). Lee, whether she wants to believe it or not, did take the issue of race head on, so how can she bristle at the criticism? She did not create a story about characters who happen to be Asian American. Race is central to it and her characterizations pander to a white audience, thus a marketing goldmine. The whole Asian female, white male relationship, that's fine. What's not fine is that the dynamics are utterly stereotypical. David Wong Louie's collection of short stories "Pangs of Love" deals with interracial relationships too, however he was able to achieve stories where the character just happens to be Asian American. It is not loaded like Lee's novel. It is a page turner though, in the same way a James Patterson novel would be. The comparison to Jhumpa Lahiri--no. Lee's the KA Amy Tan.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sachi Argabright

    FREE FOOD FOR MILLIONAIRES is a story that follows Casey Han, a Korean American woman in her late twenties, and the Korean community that surrounds her in NYC. This book explores Casey’s struggle with financial spending, having to work in difficult work environments, dating issues, and the tense relationship she has with her immigrant parents. The story also focuses on Casey’s friend Ella who seemingly has a “perfect life” until it crumbles into pieces. This book shows Korean Americans as real, FREE FOOD FOR MILLIONAIRES is a story that follows Casey Han, a Korean American woman in her late twenties, and the Korean community that surrounds her in NYC. This book explores Casey’s struggle with financial spending, having to work in difficult work environments, dating issues, and the tense relationship she has with her immigrant parents. The story also focuses on Casey’s friend Ella who seemingly has a “perfect life” until it crumbles into pieces. This book shows Korean Americans as real, flawed people and breaks the model minority myth that is still present for Asian Americans today. Even though I’ve always been intimidated by it’s size, FREE FOOD FOR MILLIONAIRES was worth the read. These characters are human, imperfect, and will make decisions that make you want to shake them. If you’re someone who doesn’t enjoy books with “unlikable” characters, this book probably isn’t for you. From infidelity to gambling to selfishness, these characters are frustrating but realistic. While the plot does take some major twists and turns, this book is mainly character driven. Lee’s aim was to represent all facets of the Korean American experience (not just the good parts), and this book does exactly that. I found Casey’s relationship with her immigrant parents to be especially interesting, and identified with some of the struggles she had with them. Overall, even though some of the characters drove me nuts (mainly the men), I’m thankful for the representation within this book especially since it was released in 2007 when Asian representation in literature was not as common as it is now. Would highly recommend for readers who love complex character development, or generational stories that explore the struggle between immigrant parents and their American children.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    A combination of chick-lit, a story of migration and generations, and a commentary on socioeconomic hierarchy (in the US and in Korea). That it takes place in NY and involves Korean culture makes it even more interesting for me. It's true that Casey, the main character, makes one bad decision after another, and that makes me dislike her at times. But overall I think that this exemplifies a major strength of the book: it has a very sophisticated undercurrent of reality, where real people, particul A combination of chick-lit, a story of migration and generations, and a commentary on socioeconomic hierarchy (in the US and in Korea). That it takes place in NY and involves Korean culture makes it even more interesting for me. It's true that Casey, the main character, makes one bad decision after another, and that makes me dislike her at times. But overall I think that this exemplifies a major strength of the book: it has a very sophisticated undercurrent of reality, where real people, particularly friends and family, are inherently imperfect. Nevertheless, I can understand why some people can't relate to the characters for this very reason. It's not the type of novel where character development and plot strands are neatly tied up by the end.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kristen Beverly

    It's never really a good sign when I finish a book, put it down and say, "ugh... finally!" I enjoyed this book, but it definitely had it's flaws. I feel like the narration was way off on this book. It's an omniscient narrator, but it focuses mainly on Casey, resulting in many sentences with the word "Casey" in them. It just became extremely tedious. And with all the different affairs - I kind of felt like it was the same story over and over again. I was going to give this book 3 stars, but once It's never really a good sign when I finish a book, put it down and say, "ugh... finally!" I enjoyed this book, but it definitely had it's flaws. I feel like the narration was way off on this book. It's an omniscient narrator, but it focuses mainly on Casey, resulting in many sentences with the word "Casey" in them. It just became extremely tedious. And with all the different affairs - I kind of felt like it was the same story over and over again. I was going to give this book 3 stars, but once I started writing this review, I realized that I didn't really like it. Both the story and writing were tedious.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    I love novels with huge scope and unforgettable characterizations, and what makes this so awesome is how many of the finely detailed and distinct characters are women. Such a pleasure to read that you slow down near the end so it won't be over (but I still read it in two days, because it is excellent. That was kind of a mistake. It's very long.)

  29. 5 out of 5

    Diversireads

    This isn’t the kind of book I’d pick up by myself to read for fun, honestly. Fantasy, chick lit, romance, those are more my things, and I enjoy gritty realism less than I enjoy English tea (which is not very much, all things considered). But a lot of my friends spoke very highly of the book, and it was the first selection for a friend’s book club, so I hunkered down after finals to start reading it with the aim of finishing it before the New Year. And man. This was a long book. It was also a book This isn’t the kind of book I’d pick up by myself to read for fun, honestly. Fantasy, chick lit, romance, those are more my things, and I enjoy gritty realism less than I enjoy English tea (which is not very much, all things considered). But a lot of my friends spoke very highly of the book, and it was the first selection for a friend’s book club, so I hunkered down after finals to start reading it with the aim of finishing it before the New Year. And man. This was a long book. It was also a book with a litany of goods and bads both, of ways it surprised me pleasantly and ways that it let me down. The most obvious issue I have with it is the length: by about 50% in (I read it on my Kindle), I was already impatient for it to start winding down into a resolution. Honestly, I have to wonder who edited the novel, because had it been me, I would have slashed about 200 pages from the total novel length. What could have been a very tight and emotionally engaging novel at about 300 pages was instead this unfocused monster of a ramble at 576. (The main character’s favourite novel is George Eliot’s Middlemarch, and it shows.) By about 40% in, I was already starting to get tired, the novel itself was starting to drag, which is unfortunate, because it also took me quite a while to get engaged with the novel itself, particularly with its main character, Casey, none of which should be happening. My other major issue was plot. My friend described it as being very definitively Kdrama-esque, and that’s definitely a descriptor I can also see myself applying, in ways meant both to praise and to censure. On one hand, there was this really great atmosphere of community, a sense of drama within this circle of immigrants that Casey has grown up amongst, but on the other hand, there was also so much contrived and overwrought melodrama that I thought was distracting and unnecessary, as well as a lot of needlessly contrived interpersonal entanglements. Speaking of personal entanglements – while the multiple points of view through which the story is told serve to allow readers a greater understanding of the characters’ personalities and their ultimate development through the course of the novel, I personally felt rather unsatisfied with it, because the narrative at times felt very scattered and directionless, and this became one of my sources of frustration. It wasn’t all bad, though. The book is very thoughtful and nuanced regarding its portrayal of this particular (but I’m sure it can be extrapolated to apply across a variety of different Korean American and perhaps even Asian American) community, and, unlike novels like Cinder and Eleanor & Park, I never got the feeling that the Korean American community, or Korean culture, was being used the way one might use soy sauce to marinate meat, to give ‘flavour’ to without really thinking too deeply about it. Instead, it was a central part of the characters’ lives, their actions, their values, but without dominating the entire landscape of the narrative. Among literature written by Asian American authors, it’s often a delicate balance of acknowledging the roles that cultures of heritage have had on our experience and perhaps fixating on that as the only experience valid to write about, and I think Free Food for Millionaires is one of those rare books that balances it perfectly. Casey has an identity outside of her status as a first generation immigrant, yet it is still an integral part of who she is and how she sees the world. I also enjoyed the lack of apologetics regarding Korean culture in the novel. I’ve spoken before about the in-community/out-community split, and how often times Asian American authors are expected to first and foremost explain ourselves and our cultures to a presumably white audience. And it was honestly a relief that this was not one of those books. In an essay written by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, the author says: I find myself thinking of writers coming from countries that have endured colonization, from countries where English is an imposed tongue. I find myself asking: do we really need to explain everything to the imagined Western reader? I think of italics, apologies and explanations, and the connecting line between these words. If we have read and consumed work from writers from the West without complaint, if we have gone that extra step to fully engage with that work, surely we can trust that those who seek out our stories will also take that extra step to meet us halfway. And this is something that I think is important, an element that I think a lot of America-focused Anglophonic pushes for diversity ignores (that and the presence of incredibly rich literary traditions from various countries of the Global South), and it’s something that deserves to be recognised. We should be writing primarily in service of our own communities, not seeking to justify ourselves to the “imagined Western reader.” And even though I’m sure that as a Chinese American, I did not catch all of the untranslated Korean words or the cultural cues, it was still a breath of fresh air that the author did not feel the need to break up the flow of her writing in order to explain or to justify. And even though I never felt truly emotionally satisfied with the novel, I could still identify with several of the protagonists – even the ones who behaved in less-than-exemplary ways – and their internal conflicts and desires. It’s one of those novels that I think I would encourage people to pick up, but I also wouldn’t blame them if they put it down.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Autumn

    Maybe 2.5. Not as polished as PACHINKO, but this is 10 years previous to that so that's understandable.

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