Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Published by Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: February 7, 2017
Genres: Book Clubs, Cultural, Fiction, Historical
Your Local Book Store, Amazon
Historical fiction seems to be the safest bet for my reading right now. Novels that put me in another place, in a different century or even a different decade, all seem to work at distracting my scrabbling brain. Most recently, I fell into the world of Korea from the 1930s to the 1980s in Min Jin Lee’s expansive family saga, Pachinko. It’s four generations of one family as they experience their country’s takeover by Japan and, in an effort to have better lives and avoid the conflict between North and South Korea, move to Japan themselves.
Pachinko begins with the marriage of Yangjin to a man who runs a boarding house in a small fishing village in South Korea. Poverty is the norm, but they make ends meet and when Yangjin has a baby, she is beloved by both her parents. Sunja grows in this insular world of hard work and oppression by the Japanese, who see all Koreans in the most negative terms possible. As a teenager she becomes pregnant. The man is a wealthy broker from Japan. Sunja hoped they would be married, but he already has a family. He offers to care for her and her child in Korea, but she refuses this offer. Instead, she marries a pastor who knows her situation, but wants to help. He is going to Osaka to work in a church there. They hope that it will be a positive move, but they are greeted with greater deprivation and discrimination.
The rest of Pachinko follows Sunja’s life and the lives of her extended family in an story that envelops the reader. Lee perfectly blends the individual aspects with the historical for entertaining reading that also educates. I had no idea how the Koreans have suffered at the hands of the Japanese. Decades of degradation and abuse based on horrible stereotypes of the Koreans as inferior humans. Pachinko is to Korea what The Mountains Sing is to Vietnam. Both are wonderfully told tales of countries that have suffered greatly at the hands of other nations, but whose people have still managed to prevail.
This post contains affiliate links which means if you click on a link and make a purchase, I get a small commission (at no cost to you).
Lory @ Emerald City Book Review says
I also had no idea of that troubled relationship between Korea and Japan. I appreciated how this novel brought that story humanly to light. And I really want to read The Mountains Sing!
I’m always embarrassed to see how little I know of the world- even though I don’t think I’m ignorant. Maybe no one does? Anyway, it was a marvelous book. I’m reading If I Had Your Face now and it’s set in contemporary Seoul and it’s just as staggering. Not from the viewpoint of the Japanese, just the society now.
Perfect timing… I just ordered this book last week from my local indie bookstore! I probably won’t get to it in the next month or so, but I’m so glad to know that you liked it so well.
It’s one of those perfect blend novels- great characters with a plot that you want to keep reading. It worked really well for me right now!