Pachinko – Min Jin Lee

I received a copy of this as part of my Sensei Subscription with Books on the Rail (guaranteed great read each month). I was so excited to receive Pachinko after seeing it all over #bookstagram, plus I have always been fascinated with the complexities of Japanese culture. I started reading this book on much lunch break at work and showed it to my Japanese colleague who explained to me what pachinko was, basically a cross between pokies and pinball machines. The popular Japanese style of gambling. This novel starts in Korea in 1910 with Hoonie, a young man with a cleft-lip and a club foot and his marriage to Yangjin. The story follows the birth of their daughter, Sunja and her eventual marriage to a Christian minister. The young couple move to start a new life in Japan and face many hardships in their foreign surroundings. The rest of the novel follows their life and the life of their descendants for four generations. Weaving a cross-generational narrative of life in Japan as a Korean immigrant.


I found this book incredibly easy to get into. I had imagined it might have taken a good few chapters to get my head into this foreign land, cultures I didn’t know a lot about. Instead I found the prose easy to follow, much too easy to be absorbed into. Despite it takin me a week to finish, I picked it up as often as I could and found myself disappointed when I had to set it back down. The style of writing sucked me right into this time and place immersing myself in a fascinating culture. Lee manages the transitions from character to character seamlessly and I loved the constant changes in perspective, gaining a personal insight into each of the characters and how they thought.


In fact a highlight of this novel was each of the characters. Across the four generations there are many characters we have the opportunity to meet and I found each one of them unique and engaging. In fact there was not one perspective that I did not enjoy or take something from. There were many twists and turns that I did not expect at times and the character’s actions kept me on my toes. Even characters you had followed for most of the novel could turn around and show a different aspect of their personality that you had not seen before. Sunja was a definite highlight, she came such a long way over the novel that you couldn’t help but love her. Mozasu was another favourite of mine. His easy manner and underrated intelligence was alluring.


There were many strong themes within this novel that give the reader much to think about. The idea that women are born to suffer is one in particular. The women of this novel, in particular the earlier ones, accepted their misfortune and difficulties within their lives. These events are shrugged off as part of the suffering that all women endure. Such a different perspective from today’s society. There is much to be done for equality for women but realistically we are so lucky to be living in a world where we have much more opportunity. I am constantly fascinated with the idea of suicide as a means to protect your honour. This has been within Japanese culture back to the samurai days and the idea that people may still practice it astounds me. To do this you would need such conviction, be so sure that these actions are the only way forward. I can barely comprehend this and yet this novel explains how these situation can come about. This book also shows that racism is evident in every culture. This books explains the type of racism that the Koreans had to endure while living in Japan, displaced from their homeland. The fact that people who were living in Japan as the second or third generation from a Korean background still had to have an identity card, a different passport is harsh, yet not so different from other countries in the world where racism is still rife. It is sad to think just how predisposed humans are to segregate those are different.


This novel left me with much to think about and found it’s way under my skin only pages in. I would highly recommend picking up Pachinko. This novel has a fascinating insight into a culture very different to my own and I thoroughly enjoyed the different perspective. Well worth a read and definitely worth the hype I give Pachinko four bowls of white rice, something so plain to us yet so special back in those days.


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