Book Review- Pachinko Min Jin Lee

Hello, I wonder how everyone is with the lockdown? Well, today, I will be doing a review on a famous historical fiction novel, Pachinko, written by Korean-American author, Min Jin Lee. There won’t be any I don’t like and I like parts like I usually do, just ramble on and on about this book.

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“There could only be a few winners, and a lot of losers. And yet we played on, because we had hope that we might be the lucky ones.”

In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant–and that her lover is married–she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son’s powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.

Richly told and profoundly moving, Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty. From bustling street markets to the halls of Japan’s finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, Lee’s complex and passionate characters–strong, stubborn women, devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis–survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history.

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; 1 edition (February 7, 2017)
  • Language: English
  • Genre:- Asian American fiction, historical fiction
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Min Jin Lee is a recipient of fiction fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study at Harvard. Her second novel Pachinko (2017) was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction, runner-up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, winner of the Medici Book Club Prize, and a New York Times 10 Best Books of 2017. A New York Times Bestseller, Pachinko was also a Top 10 Books of the Year for BBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and the New York Public Library. Pachinko was a selection for “Now Read This,” the joint book club of PBS NewsHour and The New York Times. It was on over 75 best books of the year lists, including NPR, PBS, and CNN. Pachinko will be translated into 25 languages. Lee’s debut novel Free Food for Millionaires (2007) was a Top 10 Books of the Year for The Times of London, NPR’s Fresh Air, USA Today, and a national bestseller. Her writings have appeared in The New Yorker, NPR’s Selected Shorts, One Story, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, The Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, Conde Nast Traveler, The Times of London, and Wall Street Journal. She served three consecutive seasons as a Morning Forum columnist of the Chosun Ilbo of South Korea. In 2018, Lee was named as an Adweek Creative 100 for being one of the “10 Writers and Editors Who are Changing the National Conversation” and a Frederick Douglass 200. She received an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Monmouth College. She will be a Writer-in-Residence at Amherst College from 2019-2022.

I have been fascinated with history and I have always wanted to read Pachinko ever since I heard about the book. And I wasn’t even disappointed with the book, as I bought this book through Betterworlds.

Anyway this is what is one of my favorite quotes from the book

“History has failed us but no matter,”

Which is so true in real life.

Just to give you a brief up, the story begins with a couple Hooni and Yeongin who have a daughter named Sunja in the 1900s, just before the WWII. They own a boarding house in an island. When Hooni dies, Yeongin and Sunja runs the boarding house. Then a teenage Sunja meets a man named Hansu and a romantic relationship develops between them. When Sunja becomes pregnant, Hansu, who is a Korean but works as a yakuza tells her that he was already married and has children in Japan. However, he wanted her to become his mistress which Sunja refuses. Then a sickly minister named Baek Isak who is moving to Osaka comes to the boarding house where he later on hears about Sunja’s situation, marries her and then move to Osaka, Japan. Then the story develops in Osaka and tells about the lives of Koreans living in Japan, before, during and after the WWII.

The book is divided into four parts with a time span–the first is based in the Korean hometown of Sunja between 1910 to 1930, then the life in Osaka Japan, from 1930 till 1952 and then the two titled “Pachinko” from the time span of 1952 till 1989 where Sunja’s son, Mozasu, gets involved into the world of Pachinko and becomes one of the rich Korean in Yokohama.

Just to heads up, Pachinko is a Japanese mechanical game used mainly as a recreational arcade sort of game as well as a gambling device, though gambling is illegal in Japan. And also as in the book, in real, most Pachinko parlors are owned by Korean-Japanese people.

I won’t give much spoilers in here, but I really like Lee’s style of writing–it is engaging and I was so absorbed into the book, as if I was also a part of this moving story. The atrocities that many Koreans living in Japan faced during the WWII, different political thoughts when Korea was divided into North and South and about the Korean war and the Koreans who still remain in Japan wishing to be like Japanese so they can integrate into the society. Lee has done tremendous research on this topic, discussing about the lives of the Korean-Japanese people, the racism they faced from the Japanese people and also the history, the way the prisoners were treated in Japanese prisons during the war, particularly the persecution of Christians when they refuse to bow to their emperor (this only happened during the war). However, there are good Japanese characters in the book as well. It is also sad that Koreans are not that welcome in their own native South Korea as well since the South Koreans think they are Japanese. I actually learned a lot from this book.

I was also born in Japan and grew up in Japan and so I kind of can relate to how the Koreans faced while living in Japan. Though I should say, not all Japanese people are bad. Though I was born in Japan, I didn’t get a citizenship though I do have some privileges since I was born there. I do have some Japanese friends though there were some who never talked to me when I was in school. However, Japan is a wonderful and beautiful country and despite whatever the attitude they have, Japanese people are always polite and I remember some random Japanese strangers would buy me a chocolate or candy when I was a kid back there!

Overall I rate this book as five stars and would recommend this book to anyone who likes to read a good historical book based in Asia.

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