Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Published by Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: February 7, 2017
Genres: Book Clubs, Cultural, Fiction, Historical
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.
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