Updated: Mar 21, 2019
I don't know why it took me so long to get around to reading this amazing book. It's one of the best books I have read in quite a while.
Throughout the world’s history there have been many occasions where two, sometimes more, cultures, have existed together in the same region. Most of these times, usually from invasion and colonization of the indigenous population, one culture assumes the dominant role and treats the other as a lower class, many times brutally oppressing them and perniciously destroying their religion and culture. With Pachinko it’s the Japanese and the Korean cultures, and we witness these atrocities at a personal level through the lives of a Korean family. Just before World War 2 Japan annexed Korea and absorbed it into its empire. This is an epic. multi-generational narrative, broken into three books. Each book covers a different generation. In book one we
are briefly introduced to the first generation of the family in a small village in Yeongdo, Korea. It is 1910 and Hoonie’s parents are ecstatic when a matchmaker arrives with a prospective bride for their son. Hoonie was born with a cleft palate and a twisted leg and his parents expected him to never marry, destined for a lonely solitary life in the village. However, the father of the bride, with four daughters and no money to feed them or himself, desperately unloads the youngest daughter, and an unlikely marriage becomes a reality. With book two the narrative covers the family and their trials from 1939 to 1962. Hoonie has died of tuberculosis, leaving Yangjin, his wife, and their daughter Sunja running a boarding house and living on the edge of poverty. Sunja, and her two sons, Noa, and Mozasu, both from different fathers, are the main characters in this second third of the novel. Eventually we end up in 1962 with book three, Noa is working in a pachinko parlour whose manager is a racist xenophobe. Noa pretends to be Japanese and lives in fear of his Korean heritage being discovered. The way the book is structured sometimes chapters will jump years forward in time, but the transition Is written and handled so well that the plot never feels like it is being rushed and the narrative flows seamlessly. Lee has truly written a multi-generational epic There is a large cast of characters, but Lee invests so much emotion and pathos into each one that they all leave an indelible impression on you. All the characters from each of the generations, suffer and struggle with the same problem of identity, acceptance, persecution and racism. I absolutely adored this book. From the historical fiction, to the great story, to the wonderfully rich characters. This book is a hefty 496 pages, but a book will never seem too long if you are enjoying it. Me, I didn’t want this one to end. 5 Stars.
Biograhy from goodreads.
Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko (Feb 2017) is a national bestseller, a New York Times Editor’s Choice and an American Booksellers Association’s Indie Next Great Reads. Lee’s debut novel Free Food for Millionaires (May 2007) was a No. 1 Book Sense Pick, a New York Times Editor’s Choice, a Wall Street Journal Juggle Book Club selection, and a national bestseller; it was a Top 10 Novels of the Year for The Times of London, NPR’s Fresh Air and USA Today.
Min Jin went to Yale College where she was awarded both the Henry Wright Prize for Nonfiction and the James Ashmun Veech Prize for Fiction. She attended law school at Georgetown University and worked as a lawyer for several years in New York prior to writing full time.
She has received the NYFA Fellowship for Fiction, the Peden Prize from The Missouri Review for Best Story, and the Narrative Prize for New and Emerging Writer. Her fiction has been featured on NPR’s Selected Shorts and has appeared most recently in One Story. Her writings about books, travel and food have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, The Times Literary Supplement, Conde Nast Traveler, The Times of London, Vogue (US), Travel + Leisure (SEA), Wall Street Journal and Food & Wine. Her personal essays have been anthologized in To Be Real, Breeder, The Mark Twain Anthology: Great Writers on His Life and Work, One Big Happy Family, Sugar in My Bowl, and The Global and the Intimate: Feminism in Our Time. She served three consecutive seasons as a Morning Forum columnist of the Chosun Ilbo of South Korea.
Lee has spoken about writing, politics, film and literature at various institutions including Columbia University, French Institute Alliance Francaise, The Center for Fiction, Tufts, Loyola Marymount University, Stanford, Johns Hopkins (SAIS), University of Connecticut, Boston College, Hamilton College, Hunter College of New York, Harvard Law School, Yale University, Ewha University, Waseda University, the American School in Japan, World Women’s Forum, Korean Community Center (NJ), the Hay Literary Festival (UK), the Tokyo American Center of the U.S. Embassy, the Asia House (UK), and the Asia Society in New York, San Francisco and Hong Kong. In 2017, she won the Literary Death Match (Brooklyn/Episode 8), and she is a proud alumna of Women of Letters (Public Theater).
From 2007 to 2011, Min Jin lived in Tokyo where she researched and wrote Pachinko. She lives in New York with her family.
There is a great interview with Min Jin here - https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=interview+with+Min+Jin+Lee+pachinko&view=detail&mid=9E4CEE1ED737AD62A0A29E4CEE1ED737AD62A0A2&FORM=VIRE