Monday, May 29, 2017

G813 Book Review of Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Name of Book: Pachinko

Author: Min Jin Lee

ISBN: 978-1-4555-6393-7

Publisher: Grand Central

Type of book: 1910-1989, Japan, Korea, Koreans living in Japan, faith, religion, marriage, relationships, women, suffering, multi generational, Pachinko, survival, rules, Japanese, WWII, yakuza, negative stereotypes

Year it was published: 2017


Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan.

So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.


Oh boy, there are tons of characters in the book, but I will cover the few main ones: Yangjun and Hoonie are Sunja's parents who were born and raised in a fishing village of Busan. Hoonie is a gentle man who treated Sunja and Yangjun very well and who left a shadow that becomes difficult to fill. Yangjun is resourceful and will do whatever she can for her daughter. Sunja is the prized daughter who meets Koh Hansu and happens to be naive and can be taken advantage of easily. She is resourceful, independent and proud. Koh Hansu has his own secrets about his life and takes advantage of Sunja. Isak is loving and sweet husband who suffers from tuberculosis and longs for a normal life. Yoseb and Kyungmee are Isak's brother and sister-in-law who take them in and help them with children as well as finances. Noa is a talented and gifted young man who does what he can in following the rules and trying to achieve greatness. Mozasu is a good man too, but often gets into fights and is good at fixing and running around. Solomon is Mozasu's only son who majored in finances and also has to create a life in Japan. There are a lot of minor characters, but that will take too long to list them.


No immigration is the same


The story is in third person narrative from multiple characters' points of views. For those who have read some older classical novels and are familiar with info-dump, this is what the author introduces. Also as well, the transitions between one character to another is smooth, and very relevant. The author doesn't waste a single sentence or detail when it comes to fleshing out the time, place and characters, and I felt as if I literally lived with the characters, celebrated their triumphs in life and was saddened by events beyond their control. The last quarter of the book, in my opinion, is not as strong as the first 3 quarters was because it seems that the reader doesn't get into Solomon's thoughts and motivations for the choices he has made. I also think I would have liked if the author covered 1990s to present time in Japan just to see what will happen to the family and what will happen during the bubble burst of 1990s and what will be going on now.

Author Information:
(From the book)

Min Jin Lee's debut novel, Free Food for Millionaires, was one of the "top 10 novels of the year" for the Times (London) NPR's Fresh Air, and USA Today. Her short fiction has been featured on NPR's selected shorts. Her writings have appeared in Conde Nast Traveler, Times (London) Vogue, Travel+ Leisure, Wall Street Journal, New York Times Magazine, and Food & Wine. Her essays and literary criticism have been anthologized widely. She served as a columnist for the Chosun Ilbo, the leader paper of South Korea. She lives in New York with her family.


I loved the first 75 percent of the book; loved the sentences, the images as well as the facts that were strewn throughout the novel about Koreans living in Japan. Although I knew some of the facts, I didn't realize it was that bad. Although I'm not Asian,I am an ethnic minority in Russia as well as in America, thus the experiences and details that the characters go through are not strange or foreign, but are too familiar. For those who are outsiders or who have felt like outsiders, then this is the right book to not feel alone. I also appreciated that the men aren't painted terribly and are fully fleshed out characters, in particular Sunja's husband Isak as well as Sunja's sons and her lover. The first generation, that of Sunja, Isak, Koh Hansu, Yoseb and Kyungmee are the strongest characters and will make the story pass in a blink of an eye. During the second part of the story, when it begins to focus on Noa and Mozasu, Sunja's sons, the story continues to remain strong about life in Japan and the extreme reactions that Noa and Mozasu had to being foreign, one choosing to become a Korean so to speak, while the other attempts to hide his heritage from everyone. For me that part in particular was an uncomfortable read because the author also questions the fine line between attraction and fetishism. I feel that the last part, with Mozasu's son, Solomon, felt more like an outline,although it had very strong elements of a story, especially when it comes to psychology, which is what I wanted to the author to do to Hana. I don't think I would have minded if the story was six or seven hundred pages long if I can get to know Solomon and Hana more. All in all, a highly recommended and wonderful story of immigration, the reactions to being a foreigner as it lasts from one generation to another.

This was given by publisher for review

5 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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