Thursday, January 4, 2018

ドラマ (Dorama) Time! 19

Happy New Year! For the last three Japanese dramas that I watched in 2017, I wanted to try something a little different by listing the main plot points of each one and then briefly filling in the gaps. As usual, all of these shows can be found with or without English subs on DramaCool. In the order that I finished them:

セシルのもくろみ (Seshiru no Mokuromi/Cecile's Plot) - Fuji TV/2017
  • Nao (Maki Yoko) is a laid-back housewife from Saitama who gets recruited to be an amateur model along with other subscribers of a women's lifestyle/fashion magazine.
  • Nao's paired with a junior editor named Eri who thinks Nao sucks at modeling (because she does), but who coaches her so that they both can eventually earn long-term positions with the magazine.
  • Nao is befriended by the magazine's long-reigning top cover model Yukako, who also helps refine her modeling technique. Nao finally starts taking modeling seriously.
  • Some drama happens, Yukako quits modeling. Nao is in the running to become one of the featured models who gets to replace her.
  • More drama happens, both Nao and Eri almost quit their respective careers, and the magazine staff is reorganized. Eventually both women find their footing in the industry.
I watched this show for Maki Yoko ('Mondai no Aru Restaurant') and Itaya Yuka ('Haha ni Naru'), who are two of my favorite actress. Though if Itaya Yuka's going to keep doing fashion dramas it'd be nice if she switched it up instead of playing the same super-serious exec each time (see 'FIRST CLASS'). I didn't really care much about the backstabbing involving models and other staff at the magazine, and I didn't care that much about Yukako even though she went through some difficult times and was instrumental to Nao's development as a model. What kept me watching was the camaraderie between Nao and Eri, where mutual spite transformed into a partnership, and then into a genuine friendship. And perhaps I'm also a sucker for a woman underdog story, I don't know. There's also an openly bisexual makeup artist who doubles as a wise sage, which is interesting, but the show doesn't really use him for much other than to give Nao advice.

カンナさーん! (Kanna-san!/Ms. Kanna!) - TBS/2017
  • Kanna (Watanabe Naomi) works as a fashion designer and is shocked when her husband Ryo asks for a divorce so he can be with his mistress/work colleague.
  • Kanna and Ryo both date other people for a bit, but as those relationships fizzle out they focus on co-parenting their young son as best they can.
  • Kanna's trifling mother-in-law is trifling the whole time. 
  • The design house that Kanna works for gets bought out and Kanna loses her job.
  • Kanna works in construction to make ends meet, Ryo stops being a dummy, and a choir sings "Joyful Joyful" from Sister Act 2 as they get re-married. Kanna still draws designs but her future in fashion is uncertain.
Watanabe Naomi (comedian/fashion designer) is literally the only reason I gave this show the time of day. I'm actually not that familiar with her work besides the clips here and there that I've seen online. I'm a fan of hers simply because she's a fat woman in Japan who's extremely successful in entertainment and fashion, and I just really want her to win. 'Kanna-san!' is a lot like 'Jimi ni Sugoi' in that the entire show rides on the lead actress. If anyone other than Ishihara Satomi had been cast in 'Jimi ni Sugoi' it would've been just a boring workplace show about a young woman who goes to work and dresses cute. If anyone other than Watanabe Naomi was cast in 'Kanna-san!', it'd just be a boring show about a single mom who designs clothes and keeps getting tried by her ex-husband and mother-in-law. Watanabe's enthusiasm and unique appearance are what make the show work. Thankfully, however, there are no fat jokes and no one comments on her weight at all. There are subtle references, like when the tub overflows when she settles in for a bath, or when she buttons two shirts together to make a skirt in her size. But her being fat is never the butt of a joke, which I can appreciate.

僕のいた時間 (Boku no Ita Jikan/The Time I Was There/Hours of My Life) - Fuji TV/2014
  •  Takuto comes from a wealthy family and was expected to become a doctor and take over his father's hospital, but opts out. Consequently, his parents mostly ignore him in favor of his younger brother who's groomed to be the successor instead.
  • Takuto and Megumi go to the same university but only meet for the first time during a group job interview. At first bonding over their mutual failure at being able to secure a full-time job, they become a couple.
  • Takuto gets hired at a furniture company, while Megumi trains as a nurse for the elderly and disabled.
  • Takuto learns that he has ALS, a rarity but not impossibility for his age. He breaks up with Megumi, encouraging his senpai Takumi to date her instead, and erases himself from her life so as to avoid telling her about the diagnosis.
  • Two years later Takuto still works and lives a decent life thanks to the support of his mom, brother, best friend, and caretakers. He and Megumi cross paths again by chance at a wheelchair soccer practice.
  • Megumi leaves Takumi to be with Takuto again. They stay together as he loses the ability to move, write, and speak.
When I checked the upcoming shows for the fall 2017 season I wasn't sold on any of the options, so I looked up some of the most popular dramas from the past 10 years for alternatives and found this one. My takeaway from the show, other than learning more about the progression of ALS, is that you have to acknowledge things as they are rather than getting wrapped up in how you think they "should" be. This is something I've struggled with basically my whole life, especially in 2017. Once Takuto makes peace with how his life has changed and will continue to change, he's at greater peace and is able to make the most of what his life has become. This show reminded me a lot of my grandfather (formerly very independent, now significantly less so due to certain medical issues) and the concessions people have to make when their bodies age or begin to lose certain functions. Humbling story with a sad but resolute ending.

'Seshiru no Mokuromi' was fun to watch, 'Kanna-san!' was cute I guess, but neither of them hold a candle to 'Boku no Ita Jikan'. That's my winner this time around.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

BOOKS! (Stealing Buddha's Dinner + Beijing Doll)

I finished these books weeks ago but haven't been in a writing mood lately, hence the delay. But I've been feeling pretty good this week, I'm at my favorite cafe and I'm ready to do this. So let's do this! Today's reads are second-hand books that I found at my local Little Free Library and at the Detroit Bookfest, respectively.

Stealing Buddha's Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen

If you've been reading my reviews for a while you may be thinking, Seriously? Another immigrant story? And to that I would say: 1) Hey, I like what I like. There will be more. And 2) Bich Minh Nguyen went through a whole lot in her formative years, okay?

She emigrated to the US with her family as a child, leaving her mom behind in Vietnam. She grew up in one of the whitest, most conservative places ever during the 1980s, and didn't have wealth or connections or religious affiliation to help her blend in. Her father remarried, adding a stepmom, stepsister, and eventually a half brother and foster children to a crowded household that already included her older sister, her grandmother, and two uncles. She adopted American tastes and habits to fit in, only to wind up with limited proficiency in her first language, a nearly non-existent connection to fellow youths in the local Vietnamese community, and the biting realization that whiteness would never be hers, no matter how she tried. She couldn't even find reliable friends in her two sisters, since she was younger than them, a bookworm, and supposedly unpretty. And even though she knew her mother was out there somewhere, she couldn't ask about it because her dad and stepmom were the type of parents who didn't talk about anything! Anything that was too real or unpleasant remained grown-folks business or simply wasn't spoken of aloud.

Grand Rapids is much like Ann Arbor, Ferndale, Royal Oak, and gentrified areas of Detroit in that it has a reputation as being one of the "hippest" places in the state. It's attractive, it's changed over the years, and it gets a lot of credence since it's the largest city in west Michigan. But apparently it's also very conservative and can still be a tough place for people who are considered too different. It was so for Nguyen in the '80s, and it has been so for one of my college friends, a young, Black, first-gen American, LGBTQ woman my age who grew up there and now lives in NYC. But this is Michigan after all, so perhaps Grand Rapids is merely emblematic of the state itself. That's another discussion for another day. My point is only that Nguyen's delayed arrival at self-awareness and acceptance is understandable given her surroundings.

I also can't forget to mention Nguyen's ability to demonstrate the bond between consumerism and whiteness. The 1980s saw a huge boom in both advertising and consumer trends, and as an impressionable child Nguyen used popular food/food products, television, and music to try and gain proximity to perceived normalcy and perfection. The title Stealing Buddha's Dinner refers to an incident when Nguyen tested the power of Buddha by stealing a plum from the altar that her grandmother set, and waited to see what consequences would follow (none did). It represents not only her challenging religious convention, but also testing the other tenets that frame her young life: Vietnamese-ness, American-ness, family, what it means to be a good kid, what it means to be beautiful, girlhood, coolness, and the taboo of confronting the past.
If you are interested in reading about Vietnamese culture and food, refugee experiences, blended families, 1980's American pop culture, Grand Rapids history, or young outcasts, then read this book!

Favorite quotes:
"Nonetheless, drawn to what I could not have, I kept seeking out landscapes in which I could not have existed. Deep down, I thought I could prove that I could be a more thorough and competent white girl than any of the white girls I knew... I thought if I could know inside and out how my heroines lived and what they ate and what they lovedHarriet in New York, Laura in Dakota, Jo March in Massachusetts, Elizabeth Bennet in EnglandI could be them, too. I could read my way out of Grand Rapids" (163).
"In the end, I left my questions unanswered. I couldn't comprehend the loss, the nearly twenty years' absence, the silence and unknowing, the physical distance literally impossible to break. I didn't know what to say to make anything different. I didn't know what to do with so many years between us... In the end, I left my mother all over again" (237-38).

Beijing Doll  by Chun Sue

I didn't think to ask Zuri McWhorter (@literaryhomegirl) if this was her own personal copy. But it was on the table along with the creative wares that she was selling at the Detroit Bookfest, and it was visibly worn when I bought it, so I'm going to hope that it was hers. Chun Sue wrote this autobiographical novel when she was 17 years old, got it published when she was only 20, and it was banned in China not long afterward. Wow, wow, and wow.

An ode to her teenage years, Beijing Doll contains an abundance of typical teenage angst, impulsiveness, idealism, sense of loss, and disappointment with the world. What is atypical about Chun Sue, however, is that she is able to act on her impulses in ways that few teenagers have the freedom to do. She quits high school twice and spends most of her time hanging out with friends and having dalliances with boys, sometimes staying out all night. She's an avid rock music fan, a wannabe musician, and a skilled writer, so in the midst of her escapades she also has somewhat of a career in music journalism, interviewing various bands and artists in the underground rock scene. Beijing Doll might not be considered a literary masterpiece, but it made a considerable impact when it was published, and it does offer a fascinating look into what urban youth culture was like in Beijing at the turn of the millennium.

The kicker is that despite acting out, she still had a home to go to at the end of the day! Chun Sue came and went as she pleased, did almost whatever she wanted, disobeyed her parents time and time again, even got in trouble a couple of times, and her parents never kicked her out or punished her harshly. Which was surprising to me, as I'm used to hearing or reading stories about traditional Asian parents being notably strict. Her father was a no-nonsense military man, but her mom dealt with her most often, and I don't know if she was ahead of her time as a parent or simply exasperated by trying to rein Chun Sue in. As much as the girl expressed feeling alone and misunderstood, she didn't face that many consequences to her actions.

This novel is also an implicit reminder that men can be predatory no matter where on earth you look. All of the men that Chun Sue gets involved with are older than her, and she was even fielding advances from college students when she was only a middle school student (became sexually active at around 14 years old). Sure she tried to act grown and often lied about her age, but I refuse to believe that it's really that hard for men to tell how young a girl actually is. Like y'all know. And y'all know that y'all know.

Anyway, if you like coming-of-age stories, rock music, or contemporary Chinese literature, then read this book!

Favorite quotes:
"Jelly said I asked too much of life. But how was I to ask too little?" (60).

"I didn't know how to go about finding my lost passion, but my dreams had not been fulfilled, and so I was still young" (164).

Friday, November 10, 2017

Things People Give Me #33 and #34

For the past 7 months or so I've been volunteering with a group of middle school kids who were going on an exchange trip to their sister city in Kusatsu, Shiga-ken, Japan. I got involved because one of the organizers/chaperones is my neighbor as well as the mother of a girl I went to school with from elementary through high school. The group returned from their 10-day trip last week, and my neighbor invited me over to show me pictures and tell me all about their experience. They visited a number of elementary and junior high schools in that city, and one of the schools greeted each visitor with a hand-folded origami bookmark. My neighbor let me have hers, as well as a box of tea that she bought while there. Thanks, Ms. Sturgis!

Today I received a free lunch bag from my bank, as a token of gratitude for being a member for 15 years. And I was so confused. Fifteen years? Since when did I....? And then I remembered that I've been with the same bank since elementary school, when my mom signed me up for the "little savers" program (or whatever it was called), where they let us kids open bank accounts and make deposits once a week to teach us about saving. I might just give the lunch bag to her, since she's the reason why I have the account in the first place. Thanks, Ma! And thanks to my bank!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

BOOKS! (Ghana Must Go + We Are Never Meeting in Real Life)

Don't know if reading slumps and life slumps coincide (usually I can keep reading no matter what), but for some reason since autumn started I've had the hardest time getting through books as quickly as I have been this year. I finally managed to finish two, one of which I bought in Mackinaw City last year and another I bought on a whim while killing time at bookstore some weeks ago.

Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi

For a while, Kweku and Folasadé's meeting at an HBCU in Pennsylvania in the 1980s was the beginning of their own African immigrant success story. Kweku, having escaped poverty in Ghana, established himself as a talented surgeon in Boston while Folasadé, having escaped war in Nigeria, traded her would-be law career for selling flowers and raising their four children. The family's wellbeing and the solidification of their place in America rests on Kweku, until his ability to provide is wrested away from him. Too proud to admit his failure to his family, he runs away from home, eventually divorcing his wife and moving back to Ghana, leaving Folasadé to carry the family on her own. Fifteen years later Kweku dies from a heart attack at home with his second wife, prompting Folasadé and her grown children to congregate in Accra. Not only must they renconcile their feelings toward Kweku, but they also must contend with unresolved bitterness between each other.

Olu, the eldest, is a surgeon just like his father but resents the stereotypical deadbeat dad that Kweku represents. He is also afraid to love his own wife in the full and vulnerable way that she deserves. Taiwo and Kehinde, the twins, have always been revered for their beauty and they possess an otherworldly connection to each other that is respected as sacred. Their relationship is ruptured by events that occured during an abbreviated stay in Nigeria not long after Kweku left the family. In the present Kehinde, a famous artist, is recovering from attempting to take his own life, and Taiwo, a law school dropout, is angry at the world and can't stop going back to her married lover. And lastly there's Sadie. Kweku was instrumental in helping her survive after being born premature, but he left when she was too young to know him as her father. Sadie resents being treated like a child, and unlike her siblings she doesn't seem to possess any special skill or beauty. She idolizes her wealthy white friends and uses bulimia to cope with feelings of inadequacy. Each of the six family members lends their perspective, with Kweku's voice being most prevalent in the first part of the book. Giving Kweku a proper send-off is integral to his posthumous redemption, and sets the stage for each family member to wrestle with their own lingering hurt and identity issues.

What I love most about Ghana Must Go is that Taiye Selasi is in no rush to tell us everything we want to know. She'll offhandedly throw in a hint of extremely pertinent information about a character or event while discussing something else entirely, and won't provide a complete explanation until she decides to do so in her own time, giving us little tidbits along the way. You almost have to read the book twice to fully get it, because you realize that you were given clues previously but weren't aware of it. If you have ever had a difficult relationship with a father figure, have any connection to immigrant families, have ever dealt with sibling rivalry, or would like to learn more about West African history and customs, then definitely read this book!

Favorite quotes:
"that the world is both too beautiful and more beautiful than he knows, than he's noticed, that he missed it, and that he might be missing more but that he might never know and that it might be too late... and that it might not even matter in the end what he's noticed, for how can it matter when it all disappears?... how can he be faulted for all that he's missed when it's all wrapped in meaninglessness, when everything dies? He is pleading his innocence (I didn't know what was beautiful; I would have fought for it all, had I seen, had I known!)" (20-21).
"Only foolish artists wait until they're famous" (83). 

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

I believe I first heard about this book when Crissle from The Read gave it a shoutout. Then a few weeks ago I spotted it in a bookstore, skimmed through it and read the line "ALSO HER PERSONALITY WAS TERRIBLE. THAT BITCH DIDN'T EVEN PURR" (35), and I was sold! To be honest, I don't enjoy reading personal/opinion essay collections that much, but I keep doing it because I'm nosy and I hope that the people who write them have something both challenging and humorous to say. This one took me longer to read than I'd expected because, like Oscar Wao, it got a little too real for me and I related to much of it on a very personal level. It's one of those books that makes you cackle and then depresses you and then makes you cackle again, and so on.

In a nutshell, Samantha is a Chicago-based writer who uses humor to interrogate pop culture and the various aspects of life that suck. And life has kind of sucked a lot for her. She grew up poor in a dysfunctional family, and both her parents were deceased before she entered her twenties. As an adult she is a black, queer, fat, opinionated woman in America with digestive issues and a chronic illness. And let's not forget the depression and anxiety that she didn't have the privilege to be treated for until she was on her own. She has self-professed weird habits, likes to stay at home whenever possible, and has a comical love-hate relationship with her cat named Helen Keller. She's kind of a mess, but as far as she's concerned, with everything she's dealt with and still has to deal with, she's earned the right to do whatever she wants (and I don't disagree)!

My favorite essays are as follows. "The Miracle Porker" tells how she ended up with her sickly and spiteful cat. "Do You Guys Pay Your Fucking Bills or What?" is about paying for things as an adult and how impulse spending is different for people who grew up poor. "You Don't Have to Be Grateful for Sex" is a candid reminder that fat or "ugly" girls don't have to share time or their bodies with anyone who doesn't treat them well; being able to have sex with a hot guy changes absolutely nothing about your quality of life. "A Total Attack of the Heart" is all about mental illness, beginning in her youth. "Mavis" gives the ins-and-outs of a lesbian relationship (eye-opening for me, as I definitely need to read more LGBTQ literature). "Fuck it, Bitch. Stay Fat" deals with weight, weight loss, and body image, and I love this essay the most simply for its title. "I'm in Love and It's Boring" discusses first loves and the boring-ness of being in a healthy relationship for once. And "Yo, I Need a Job" details the skills she picked up by working as a receptionist in an animal hospital. The other essays are great too, but the aforementioned are my favorite. If you like reading a mixture of jokes, adorable awkwardness, and sadness, then read this book!

Favorite quotes:
"I don't know that I'm always happy in this big body. Or what there is that I can actually do about it. I was not born to delicate people... This rotting meat corpse they created is riddled with inexplicable disease and is wide as it is tall. I was never destined to be a waif, or to have a less-than-terrible relationship with food. I grew up poor, anxious, and unhappy, with cheap carbohydrates the only affordable substitute for joy. If I had a depressed kid right now, I'd drag him to a doctor and ask for some Wellbutrin, but that was never an option for tiny me" (154).

"If 'it gets better', I'ma need to know when" (200). 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Things People Give Me #32

When your best friend since 2nd grade has a Netflix account and you don't, and she invites you over to her family's house to spend the day watching What Happened to Monday and the first season of 'Stranger Things'

...and when you arrive you're greeted with a large hot honey lemon tea with two sugars from Tim Horton's, plus warm jiffy cornbread muffins that your friend made herself, plus other snacks

... and your friend insists you lay out on the big couch and lays a blanket over you that she'd warmed up in the dryer just for this occasion

...and then her parents come downstairs to join the binge-watching party, and when dinnertime comes they make hot sausages and tater tots and salad and everything is so so so good

...and you're reminded of how necessary it is to cherish people who make you feel safe and welcome and free to laugh as loudly as you please, and how necessary it is to spend time with said people

...and you're reminded that God has called all of us to LIVE, and you been slippin'.

Thank y'all.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Scripture & Lyrics

"Hush your mouth sometime and let 'em teach you, that's law." - E-40

"Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise." -Proverbs 19:20 (NIV)

Sunday, September 24, 2017

BOOKS! (Green Island + Free Food for Millionaires)

Both of these books took longer for me to read than usual, and so they ended up being my second-to-last and last reading selections for the summer. The first was recommended to me by a friend. The other is the first novel written by an author whose most recent novel I read earlier this year.

Green Island  by Shawna Yang Ryan

Spanning from 1947 to 2003, this story is told by an unnamed narrator whose family is directly affected by pivotal events in Taiwanese history. She is the youngest of four children, born on the February night in 1947 when a cigarette-selling widow is violently accosted by law enforcement. This event sparks the 228 Massacre, in which government forces violently put down an uprising among Taiwanese people who protest the widow's treatment along with other grievances, including corruption and economic mismanagement.

Green Island showed me that I knew even less than I thought I knew about Taiwan, but here's the context that I gleaned from the novel, which helped me understand its plot. After Japanese  colonial rule over Taiwan ceased at the end of WW2, Nationalists retreated from mainland China to Taiwan and used it as their base from which to continue their campaign to defeat the Communists and re-take all of China, aiming to unite both the mainland and the island of Taiwan under the Kuomintang (Nationalist) government. The KMT was fiercely devoted to itself and its mission, and was also incredibly insecure to the point of paranoia, constantly trying to root out enemies from within Taiwan (whether real or imaginary). It took a brutal authoritarian approach to ruling the people, so that anyone who spoke publicly in favor of democracy (the US had a military presence there at the time), who openly criticized or organized action against the government, who was denounced by their fellows in forced confessions, who was associated with the wrong people, or who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, was liable to "disappear". The 228 Massacre set off this purge, as well as an era of martial law in Taiwan that didn't end until 1987.

The narrator's father is one of those people who "disappeared" for expressing his ideas, spending 11 years of torture and hard labor at a brutal penal colony called "Green Island". Soldiers forced the narrator's family out of their home in Taipei, but they relocated to Taichung where she spent her formative years. The narrator's personal life is a canvas on which decades of tumult are displayed: the forced forgetting of 228, her father's release from prison and continued surveillance by authorities, the completion of Taiwan's virtual loss of political existence after the US formalized relations with mainland China in 1979, the narrator's first-hand experience with KMT spies in both the US and Taiwan due to her professor husband's involvement in the resistance, and the swine flu pandemic.

Even with all its gruesome details, Green Island is a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. I got a crash course on Taiwanese history and got to bug my friend with questions along the way, since her parents and especially her grandparents lived through the events of the book. There were times where I thought the book ran too long, as I sometimes got bored reading about the narrator's relationship with her husband, Wei (he's an insufferable man in his own special way). But I suppose that the mundane was needed to balance out the drama, and it helped build up to the novel's final act. If you want to learn about Taiwan, read this book!

Favorite quotes:
"When I got older, I still thought I could write life. I didn't understand, as my mother had just realized that evening, that it is the other way around. And yet, here I am, still trying" (90).

"Wei had told me a gentler era was encroaching upon Taiwan. Brutality belonged to the previous decade. Does brutality ever get old? I wondered. Each generation brings a new group of men who have not yet learned the guilt of the last. They need to feel bones breaking under their very own fingers to know for sure how they feel about it" (333).

"We are curious creatures, we Taiwanese. Orphans. Eventually, orphans must choose their own names and write their own stories. The beauty of orphanhood is the blank slate... 'The country is broken, but the mountains and rivers remain'... We are the mountains and rivers, no matter what the country is called" (372). 

Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee

Casey Han is the eldest daughter of Korean immigrants who are devout Presbyterians and run a laundry for a living. In the 1990s, despite being a Princeton economics grad, she is jobless and still lives with her parents in Queens (Mercy from The Expatriates vibes, anyone?). The book opens with an argument between her and her father about her future, which ends with him hitting her and kicking her out of the family home. She goes to stay with her college boyfriend whom she already lives with part-time, only to catch him in the middle of a threesome. Now jobless and homeless, Casey's worst night ever is also the beginning of  her journey to finding her footing as a 20-something on her own for the first time in New York City.

Being a Princeton grad and knowing a handful wealthy and well-connected people, she's never completely at a loss. There's Sabine, who runs her own department store and married rich, and thus is a Korean immigrant who's "made it", so to speak. She employs Casey on the sales floor and also acts as a surrogate mother or cool auntie of sorts, dispensing advice but also disapproving of most of her choices and not-so-subtly attempting to groom Casey into her successor. There's also Ella, a rich doctor's daughter who grew up in the same church that Casey did and always wanted to be her friend, but whom Casey ignored for years because she couldn't stand being around this girl who seems to have everything. A chance meeting between them leads to Casey living with Ella, which allows her time to get back on her feet and even leads her to getting a job on Wall Street (thanks to Ella's alpha male fiancé Ted, another man who's insufferable in his own special way).

Ella also introduces Casey to Ella's cousin Unu, a young divorcee who also works on Wall Street. They eventually start a friends-with-benefits thing, which evolves into cohabitation, which evolves into a relationship, but it's not without its problems. Money is always on Casey's mind, as she grew up poor and never seems to have enough of it to sustain herself and also pay off her mounting shopping debts and student loans. From Princeton to Wall Street, she is adept at navigating social strata in which money is no object for people, but she can never live with the sense of carefree security that they do. In contrast, Unu comes from a wealthy family and has never had to worry about money, but he has a gambling problem which, coupled with his denial and being too proud to accept Casey's help with household expenses, lands him in a deeper and deeper hole.

Min Jin Lee has this gift for taking an omniscient stance with her characters, writing from multiple points of view concurrently and getting the reader invested in the intricate details of a handful of interconnected lives, and then managing to tie up the story without leaving anyone out (see Pachinko). So there are a number of other people and incidents that influence Casey's progression from "confounded by this thing called life" to "wisened, but still confounded by this thing called life", but I'll leave them for you to discover. If you're having a quarter-life crisis or any similar crisis of existence, and if you like reading about plucky women who are their own people, read this book!

Favorite quotes:
"'The funny thing is that if you were a millionaire like some of these managing directors shaking down seven figures a year, you'd have known to push your way ahead and fill up your plate. Rich people can't get enough of free stuff... So, this is the game, Casey. You have to take what's offered'... She'd pretended to be otherwise to be ladylike and had moved away from the table to be agreeable, and now she'd continue to be hungry" (91-92).

"No explanation was necessary. They were collecting Mr. Jun's departing gift... Even if one Korean was nothing in this strange land, a church full of Koreans meant something to each other, and they intended to care for their own" (322).

"You can be grateful and angry. Such feelings can coexist" (494).