With ‘Pachinko,’ there’s a proliferation of characters across plots and scenes, and that’s not unexpected for a book that captures four generations of mankind. Min Jin Lee’s character creations are spot-on – given that each has their fair share of input in the whole narrative. Some of the best of them are explored below.
Major Characters From All-four Generations
Sunja becomes the central character of Min Jin Lee’s historical epic, ‘Pachinko’. She is the matriarchal figure for the Baek family and is the only character that connects all four generations.
Born to Hoonie, a physically challenged poor businessman, and his wife Yangjin, Sunja becomes quite the miracle child who escapes death (surviving after the first two issues die of illness) and hereditary disabilities of her family.
She is loved so deeply by her parents, Particularly her father – who adores her, bringing her up with love and affection but also with strict nurturing with values and survival skills; the old-fashioned industriousness.
Sunja goes through rough patches of life, losing her father at 13 and being deceived into becoming pregnant at 17. But, despite the odds, she proves herself a worthy matriarch by rising above the hardship to survive – in a foreign land and inspiring her children and grandchildren to do the same.
Featuring a man with two major disabilities – one disfiguring his face, another his legs, Hoonie in ‘Pachinko’ is the perfect example of why people may choose to say ‘there are no excuses for not making it.’
Like his daughter, Sunja, Hoonie survives miraculously after watching his two junior siblings pass away from sickness. He is the weakest of his brothers but he brings himself to become as strong as a complete, able-bodied man thanks to his parents’ encouragement who fear he might become helpless when they die.
This man is clearly the wealthiest and most influential character in the book ‘Pachinko’. He is guilty of tricking young Sunja with his romance and good looks and gets her pregnant but refuses to marry her for the reason that he already has a wife and children living in Japan.
Koh Hansu is also a dangerous gang member with the notorious ‘Yakuza,’ a Japanese crime ring, however, the reader finds out through the pages of the book that even the fearless and ruthless Hansu understands the place of family, as he will always take responsibility for the safety of Noa – despite refusing to marry Sunja.
He is the Christian pastor who marries pregnant Sunja after Hansu turns her down. Isak is chronically ill and feels he must try to help Sunja and her mother avoid the disgrace and shame resulting from Sunja being pregnant but not married. He is motivated to do this because the two women help him with his treatment and lodging needs.
Isak is a good man who takes responsibility for Noa despite not being his real father, but he is persecuted by the Japanese government for refusing to give up his religious beliefs, and he dies moments after his release from a three-year prison term.
She is the wife to Hoonie and mother to Sunja. She is noticed for her good looks, strong emotional intelligence, good family values, and industriousness.
Noa is the child that comes out of the love affair between Sunja and Koh Hansu and the latter refuses to marry her. Growing up, Noa is often very concerned about the unfair treatment and segregation his (Korean) people get from the Japanese, although he will later find out his blood is in fact of Japanese through Hansu.
Noa is academically sound and loves education but soon drops out of college when he learns about a devastating truth that Hansu, not Isak, is his real father. This changes his life forever and even drives him to his death (by suicide) because the stain in ‘Yakuza’ blood proves more than he can handle.
He is Noa’s half-brother and only biological son to Isak, born six years after Noa. Mozasu is strong-willed and stands up for his right and doesn’t allow anyone to shame his Korean heritage. Unlike his older brother Noa, Mozasu hates school and drops out much earlier and gets a job working at the ‘Pachinko’ gambling company. He is the father of Solomon who goes to the US to study.
Yoseb is Isak’s brother who lives with his wife Kyunghee in Osaka. He extends a kind gesture by allowing his brother Isak and Sunja to move in with them when the couple relocates from Korea to Japan.
She is the wife of Yoseb and a close friend and business partner with Sunja. She is remarkable for her industriousness and good wife values.
Etsuko is a troubled divorcee and the mother to Hana, who later dates Mozasu. She has had several relationships that have brought disgrace to her family and turned down Mozasu’s marriage proposal because she doesn’t want more shame resulting from Mozasu’s ‘Yakuza’ blood.
She becomes Noa’s girlfriend at Waseda University. Akiko is outspoken and comes from a wealthy Japanese home. She is the one who sparks Noa’s curiosity concerning his real father after he tells Noa he looks a lot like Hansu.
Phoebe is Solomon’s Korean-American girlfriend at Columbia University. She moves him to Tokyo, Japan, when he secures a high-paying job but later dumps him and returns to the United States when he is fired from work.
He is Mozasu’s son and Sunja’s grandchild. When he is little, his mother sacrifices her life to save him from being run over by a drunk driver. Solomon has a romantic relationship with Hana, the daughter of his father’s girlfriend – Etsuko. He later goes abroad for studies and returns to continue his father Mozasu’s legacy at the ‘Pachinko’ company.
Hana is the wayward child of Etsuko, the divorcee who romantically befriends Mozasu. Hana lives a disgraceful lifestyle which included alcohol and drug abuse, sleeping with various men for money. She later falls chronically ill from a sexually transmitted disease (STDs) but uses her last minutes to motivate Solomon into taking over his father’s business.
Minor Characters From All-four Generations
Samuel is the older brother of Isak and Yoseb. He is later killed after he is badly beaten by the police for taking to the streets to participate in the Korean independence uprising.
He is the man who looks after the cemetery. He is the one who reveals to Sunja that Noa, before his suicide, makes it a habit to visit the gravestone of Isak to pay respect to him and Sunja.
Who are the five major characters in Min Jin Lee’s ‘Pachinko’?
There are several characters who play major roles in the novel ‘Pachinko.’ However, the five characters whose roles are more frequent across four generations include; Sunja, Noa, Mozasu, Hansu, and Solomon.
What group is the ‘Yakuza’ in ‘Pachinko’?
In ‘Pachinko’, the ‘Yakuza’ is a crime ring known for its notoriety, and its members are feared and avoided.
What disabilities does Hoonie have?
Hoonie is the father of Sunja, who has two major disabilities, cleft palates and a club foot.
How does Yumi die in ‘Pachinko’?
Yumi is the wife of Mozasu, and the mother of Solomon. She accidentally dies while trying to save Solomon from being run over by a car driven by a drunk driver.