Tuesday, February 28, 2017


Title:  Pachinko
Author:  Min Jin Lee
Publication Information:  Grand Central Publishing. 2017. 496 pages.
ISBN:  1455563935 / 978-1455563937

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "History has failed us, but no matter."

Favorite Quote:  "You are brave ... Much, much braver than me. Living every days in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage."

Some may think Pachinko is a game of chance as a slot machine may be. To the player, it appears to be luck driven.  Think of something resembling a pinball machine. The objective is to release balls into the pachinko pins and have it land in the spots that mean a payout. A pachinko parlor resembles a casino. Yet, what most gamblers choose to look past is that someone runs the pachinko machines. They "tinkered with the machines to fix the outcomes - there could only be a few winners and a lot of losers." Yet, players continue to look past that. "And yet we played on, because we had hope that we might be the lucky ones ... to hope to believe in the perhaps absurd possibility that they might win."

So it goes with pachinko, and so it goes with life, it seems. This book is epic saga of four generations of one Korean family as they are buffeted by circumstances and, yet, they preserve, continually seeking a better life for themselves and their children. The history underlying the story of this family is that of Korean immigrants in Japan starting from about the early 1930s to 1989. It is the story of first generation immigrants who are torn between the homeland they leave and the place they now choose to call home. It is the story of the ensuing generations who have no ties to Korea but nevertheless are made to feel as if they don't belong in Japan, the land of their birth. Because of their Korean heritage, they are looked down up, unable to get citizenship, unable to get certain jobs, and unable to have the same rights as those who are ethnically Japanese.

The books anchors its story on Sunja. She is the only surviving child of a Korean couple living in Busan, Korea. Her father dies when she is thirteen. Sunja becomes involved with a man and ends up pregnant, only to find out that he is already married. A young pastor staying at her mother's boardinghouse on his way to Osaka offers to marry Sunja and give the baby his name. So begins the story of Sunja. Mother, sister, wife, entrepreneur. Strong-minded and independent. Both joy and sorrow come her way, and throughout, she manages and she perseveres.

For her character, I love the first half of the book. The pace of the book is slow, then again, it is about the characters and their quiet strength, each in their own way. Sunja's perseverance. Isak's goodness. Yoseb's sense of responsibility. Kyunghee's loyalty. Hansu's persistence. The characters work, and the book works.

Then, about half way through, the book shifts in tone and focus. Sunja's children are now grown with lives and struggles of their own. While still interesting, the second half seems like it tries to incorporate every situation and everything that could possibly go wrong. The number of story lines, settings, and characters also seems to dramatically increase such that the book appears to bounce between them. Fewer plot lines and more depth would like continue the intensity of the first half of the book. I keep reading, primarily because I feel Sunja's cares for her children and grandchildren rather than an interest in those characters themselves.

At the end though, this is Sunja's story and the story of an immigrant population and well worth reading.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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