Epic and compelling, ‘Pachinko’ by Min Jin Lee takes the reader by hand for a mixed ride filled with joy and family bond, pains and sorrow, denial and discrimination accustomed to being in a land far away from, and outside, one’s area of protection.
A Sweeping Tale of Four Generations of a Korean Family
Min Jin Lee’s masterpiece ‘Pachinko’ follows the story of a poor Korean family down to its fourth generation in what is a mixed ride of love, loss, and struggle to find oneself in a stranger’s land.
Sunja becomes the all-important central character connecting all four generations of a Korean family. She is the beautiful daughter of Hoonie, a man born disabled, who, unlike her three senior siblings, survives and grows into a strong woman and later the matriarch of the Baek family.
She has a tough start to life as Hoonie her father passes away when she turns 13, and by 17 mistakenly becomes pregnant for Koh Hansu, the handsome and rich fish dealer who’s also a dangerous gang member of the ‘Yakuza’. Hansu rejects to marry her making her life a disgrace and a living hell.
Sunja rises through the disappointment to raise her children Noa and Mozasu until they become responsible people in a (foreign) Japanese society that treats non-natives with biases and discrimination. Min Jin Lee uses her experience as an immigrant to tell such a relatable and emotional story in ‘Pachinko’.
A portrayal of True Family Values, Love, and Survival
For the most part, Min Jin Lee’s ‘Pachinko’ is a novel that beautifully exhibits a tremendous amount of true family love, loss, and the gumption for survival that it portrays in a four generational tale of a Korean family.
The reader sees These epic combinations come to play from the start of ‘Pachinko’ with Hoonie’s aging parents who are forced to shower their only son, Hoonie – born with disabilities, with love and affection, survival values, and ethics – just the right quantities that he needs to take care of himself is a cruel world for when they are no longer there to protect and provide for him.
Hoonie, despite his disabilities (as he was born with two disorders in cleft palate and clubbed foot), does well to transfer these survivalist values, love, and affection to his miracle child, Sunja – who also transmits the same to her children and grandchildren.
An Emotionally Aggravating Loss to Generational Characters
When it comes to deaths and losses one finds the reader’s emotion is being aggravated on several accounts – thanks to the many instances of emotional deaths of characters each page is made to grapple with.
From Hoonie’s two brothers dying from illness to his aging parents passing away three years after he marries Hoonie himself. Sunja’s three senior siblings down to Baek Isak, Hana, and Yumi die a poetic death so that her son lives, and then there is Noa’s painfully unexpected suicide hitting us just right when he was larger than life and had more reasons to live for.
An Insight Into The History of ‘Zainichi’ Koreans
At best, ‘Pachinko’ is one of the few books that give the readership a short, yet complete insight into the history of the start of the ‘Zainichi’ race that still exists today in Japan.
‘Zainichi’, as a Japanese word, roughly translates to mean a new foreigner, and is designated by Japan to non-citizens to remind them that they will never become one of them. They are then met with systemic discrimination, ostracization, and dehumanization.
The reader learns from the book ‘Pachinko’ that the history of ‘Zainichi’ is traced back to around 1910 when Korea was annexed by Japan.
How much of a good read is Min Jin Lee’s ‘Pachinko’?
Min Jin Lee’s ‘Pachinko’ is without a doubt a good read and this has been proven by the number of high-profile reviews it’s gotten from top publications and personalities, such as Barack Obama.
How successful was ‘Pachinko’ post-publication?
Upon its release, ‘Pachinko’ immediately caught the eyes of the literary committee because of its historically insightful storytelling of Asian ethnicity. The book also was runner-up for the 2017’s National Book Award.
Is ‘Pachinko’ based on a true historical account?
Min Jin Lee included research for the final draft of ‘Pachinko’ by interviewing real-life Koreans who lived in Japan to get their experience and thoughts, however, this doesn’t make the book a true-life account and so is still considered a fiction.
'Pachinko' Review: A Multigenerational Epic on the Racial Feud between Korea and Japan.
‘Pachinko‘ by Min Jin Lee is a sweeping four-generational epic based on the survival struggles of a poor Korean family in the midst of social and economic hardship brought upon by colonialism, earthquake, and World War II. The thrills of the story are neverending as it is a joy to the reader. It’s revealing and proves itself an abridged version of an interesting, yet untold history shared by Korea and Japan. With ‘Pachinko‘, there are so many life lessons to learn, and some of them are about value for family, others are on survival strategies and approaches to fitting into a strange, far away land outside of the home. The reader doesn’t have to understand the Korean language or be Asian to harvest from the wealth of interesting historical information portrayed in the book by Min Jin Lee.
- An abridged history of the racial feud between Korea and Japan
- Teaches vital life lessons on survival strategies and family values
- Easily readable, as stories flow into each other with seamless transitions
- Story is slightly one-sided, leaving out the Japanese accounts
- Too many less significant characters
- Enormous inclusion of ethnic prejudices and ostracization