I didn't think much of this book at first. In fact, I had to remind myself to go back to it, to read a bit more each week, so that i could finally cross it off my list. The idea of a novel with a Korean-American heroine was more than exciting to me. Finally! I've read enough Amy Tan to know more about what it's like to be a Chinese than Korean. And while I could relate, it was never the same, and I became easily frustrated by the italized words I didn't understand. So when I discovered this one, this book by a living, breathing Korean-American woman, I had to get it.
I was about 1/4 into the book as of this morning. I had planned to devote this Sunday to my reading, and after a great deal of procrastinating, i finally made myself a cup of tea and re-opened Free Food. And guess what? It got good. Really good. I am now 2/3 into the book and hope to finish it tonight. I'm not sure what happened, but it just... got to me, ya know?
I was reading about the heroine's little sister's wedding. It was the rehearsal dinner actually, and the bride and groom's families both respectively exchanged gifts. The bride's family was dirt poor; the father and mother worked at a dry cleaner and lived in Brooklyn. The groom's family were wealthy many times over. The bride's mother spent a small fortune buying the groom's large family expensive and thoughtful gifts. The groom's parents gifts totaled about $500 and all came from one shopping trip to Macy's. The heroine discussed the exchange in detail. The pain she felt for her parents. The way the groom's parents probably thought her family was trying to show off in the typical Korean way. The way the groom's parents' gifts to her family were a way of putting them in their place, telling them "hey, you're much poorer than us, and your daughter is lucky to marry our son." The way her own parents, though fully aware of what was occurring, remained humble, grateful and positive. I'm not explaining this well. But reading this passage killed me, and i was forced to put the book down. 30 seconds later i was sobbing into a pillow. What's going on? Had i not just journaled and even written a blog entry about how content i was with life? I can't explain it, but I felt as if i'd been stabbed in the heart twenty times. Nobody, nobody can possibly understand what it's like to be the child of poor Asian immigrants unless you are one. It's indescribable. And to have someone put it into words, so blunt and naked... it was hard. I can't explain. It was so hard.