Pachinko – Min Lin Lee

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Synopsis

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.

My review

From start to finish, I was captivated by the author’s sense of place. Min Jin Lee took me to a Japan that I have never considered. As a 16 year old High School exchange student living in Tokyo, I expected to fill out paperwork, however, was surprised when I had to fill out forms in which I was referred to as an Alien, upon my arrival. I considered it humorous and enjoyed my year as the foreign commodity in a Japanese High School. I loved everything about my life in Japan; friends, school and the language.

Pachinko, however, shares the horrific history of Koreans living in Japan. For people of racial difference who have lived in Japan their entire lives there is difficulty in becoming a Japanese citizen and people are still treated differently in this respect.

The Japanese people have managed to maintain their culture and traditions like no other I have experienced. This is why I love Japan so very much. The Japanese people have a beautiful and rich culture that I enjoy learning about and experiencing. In some respects, this comes at a cost, as we read in the novel.

I particularly enjoyed reading about this family through the generations. A young girl from Korea moves to Osaka, Japan with her newlywed. They soon realise the living conditions and treatment of Korean people is almost inhumane. The discrimination and further interracial issues raised made me feel very emotional and saddened for Koreans living in Japan at this time.

This multi generational novel explores Korean and Japanese culture, whilst detailing events and issues of historical significance. The numerous issues touched upon include societal views on unwed pregnant women, immigration, racial discrimination, homosexuality, abortion, adoption, parental expectations, impact of the atomic bomb, separation of a nation, mental health, cultural and family bonds. This is a family who places their love for their children first.

I also enjoyed learning more about certain aspects of Korean culture, in particular, the cooking and cultural ideas. I would highly recommend this novel for anyone interested in Japanese or Korean culture.

I was amazed by this author’s ability to write a novel that is a tapestry of a family in which historical issues are beautifully woven throughout their lives.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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