Review: Free Food for Millionnaires

Free Food for Millionaires, by Min Jin Lee
(Warner, July 2007. Hardcover, 576 pages)

I found this book hard to put aside, despite several quibbles with the way it was plotted and written. Free Food for Millionaires is the story of Casey Han, an American born Korean woman who finds herself caught between worlds – those of her parents and her peers. The disparity between cultures is not the only thing Casey struggles with. As the child of apparently poor immigrants, she also feels apart from the entitled men and women who make up the majority of her friends.

From her first love to what might be her true love, we follow Casey on a journey of discovery that includes startling insights into the lives of her friends and family. She’s not the only lost soul in the book. Far from it. In fact, I think the only people in the book who truly know who they are Joseph and Joseph, Casey’s father and the old bookseller she befriends later on. Probably no coincidence they share the same first name.

The ending is ambiguous, but I think I expected that. As to my quibbles, the plot did wander now and again. I understood why some threads were included but didn’t necessarily feel all were important. Some simply drove home the same point, over and again. The most distracting aspect of the novel, however, was the constantly revolving point of view. More than once I had to reread a paragraph or a page to clarify just whose thoughts I was hearing. It could be annoying in particularly emotional scenes as well, to skip from one head to the other, almost mid thought.

Still, it’s a good book; a thought provoking look at New York, being twenty-something, being in love and being different.

(Read in March 2012. Review originally posted on Goodreads)

Ramble: Landscapes of an Imaginary World

As a reader (and a writer), I enjoy an active imagination. Words on a page inspire flights of fantasy, and though my vision may not match that of the author, if I have gone somewhere, they have been successful.

When I am describing a scene, I have a picture of it in my head, which I assume most writers do. Some, however, might use a reference. I know I have seen places that should be written about–a building, an alleyway, a copse or cliff. A line of mountains. I tuck these away in a notebook and save pictures when I can. There are a lot of places that, taken out of context (excised from Earth), appear otherworldly. In the case of architecture, I like to believe this is often on purpose. In nature, however, almost anything seems possible.

Leafing through the May 2012 National Geographic this morning, I stumbled across a picture that fired my imagination.

This is Litlanesfoss, Iceland. The columns were formed by an ancient lava flow. Though not regular, the hexagonal shape of the columns immediately inspired thoughts of video games—and jumping puzzles. Rather than a photo, I saw concept art…and I loved it. I wanted to write about this place, I want to describe it in words and turn it into the landscape of an imaginary world.

Iceland features a lot of such places, as a quick browse of available images will show, but there are inspiring landscapes in my own backyard as well.  I drive past a reservoir on my way into town. Many mornings, particularly in the spring and autumn, the water is obscured by mist. I wonder if there is an island in there, a secret one that only appears when the mist settles across the water. One day, I’ll look for it.

Review: Critical Care

Critical Care, by Richard Dooling
(Picador, June 1996. Paperback, 256 pages)

The story is fairly simple on the surface, but more complex beneath. A young doctor is faced with a choice–he’s fooled into having to make it, and his naivete regarding the issue is quite stunning. But, it’s also endearing, and a big part of why this book is so engaging.

The dark humour had me laughing, despite mild horror, then, invariably, I’d turn the page and frown against the urge to weep. The ending was perfect.

This is a great first novel. The language is precise and easy to read, even though the book is peppered with medical terms. I enjoyed the way the author used words and constructed visual imagery. The writing, for me, elevated this book from ordinary to something I took the time to review.