May 20, 2019

Pachinko, a 2017 novel by Min Jin Lee

A book club-loving neighbor handed me a novel that received much critical praise in 2017. The book was Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and was a National Book Award Finalist. In all honesty, a family saga book set in Korea and Japan did not initially scream “Read me,” but I am so glad I read the first chapter which begins in 1910. We are introduced to Hoonie and his wife, Yangjin who are living in a Korean fishing village. Their teen-aged daughter, Sunja takes up with an older shady man named Koh Hansu. Pregnant, Sunja agrees to marry a tubercular Korean Protestant minister who is on his way to a job in Osaka, Japan.

So begins a four generation saga that will take place in a Japan of wars, poverty, illness and Korean discrimination, all the way to 1989. The Korean game of pachinko, a cross between a pinball machine and a slot machine, is a thread that runs throughout the story.

Pachinko not only has stellar writing but it magically puts you into a world that is unlike anything one has experienced, yet universally so familiar as well. I came away wanting to know more about Chinese, Japanese and Korean history. Min Jin Lee has opened that window for me with her gem-like novel, Pachinko.

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