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Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is the billed as a multigenerational story of a Korean family. While that's true in the strictest sense, it's mostly the story of tenacious Sunja and her efforts to keep her family together.
To set the stage for Sunja's life, the novel starts earlier with her grandparents and her father — the only surviving child, born with a cleft pallet. He though dies young, leaving his widow and daughter to run the boarding house during the Depression.
Sunja ends up pregnant by her older (and married) lover. He offers to take care of her and their child if she agrees to stay in Korea and continue to be his mistress. Sunja, though, has too much self respect to let anyone define the terms of her life. Instead, she finds a new path — as the wife of a missionary living in Osaka. Her life bounces through the possibilities like a ball in a Pachinko machine.
The move to Osaka during the Depression is the set up for the rest of the book. Sunja's decision to leave her home creates ripples for herself and her family and those play out through the remainder of the book. Sunja's family saga looks at the Japanese occupation of Korea, World War Two, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the rise of Japanese business in the States, and the most recent Japanese recession. All of it is seen through the lens of a Korean immigrant, her children, and grandchildren.
Later on, the pachinko theme is further explored as Sunja's children both (though under very different sets of circumstances) end up working in Pachinko parlors. Pachinko parlors were one of the few open jobs for Koreans in Japan
Pachinko is the first book by Min Jin Lee since her debut in 2007, Free Food for Millionaires. I must admit that I was unduly harsh in my review of her debut and over the years I have grown to appreciate it more than I did as a first time reader. Lee's books need to be read slowly and deliberately.
Comment #1: Tuesday, May 09, 2017 at 19:59:53
Isn't it interesting how we change and evolve as readers. There are so many books I didn't appreciate years ago that now I'm like... huh? How come I didn't like it?? Pachinko is in my TBR hope to read it too and hopefully I'll like it :)
Comment #2: Tuesday, May 09, 2017 at 19:18:00
I read it as an ebook because I knew we were planning to move and I didn't want to add to the work of packing yet more books. I think though if I weren't planing to move, I'd prefer it as a hardcover. It just seems like a book that would be beautifully designed and constructed.