Author: Min Jin Lee
Genre: Historical Fiction
Page Count: 500
Release Date: February 7, 2017
Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan.
So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.
To be completely honest I have no idea how I’m going to write this review – to put into words what this book made me feel.
Okay, first I will start with saying that I love Historical Fiction and with my obsession over K-Pop and K-Dramas, I’ve become really interested in books that have aspects relating to Korea and Korean culture. This also might make me a bit biased with my review since I’m so interested in this topic.
What I loved about this book was the way it seamlessly flowed from year to year and followed different members of the family, starting with Sunja’s father in the 1920’s and then Sunja, her kids, and finally, her grandkids.
This book shows the struggles of immigrants and how they are constantly faced with oppression and are lost, trying to find a place in the world to call home. Especially in the time and place this book was set in, Koreans and the Japanese weren’t friends, like, at all.
I knew that there was conflict of some kind between Korea and Japan, but I never knew why until now. Since I know next to nothing about this subject, I can’t say if it’s historically accurate but considering the fact that this book was a National Book Finalist, and the author spent roughly 30 years writing and re-writing to make it perfect, it’s pretty darn accurate.
This book also chronicled through the time when Korea was separating into the North and South and how that effected Koreans that still lived in Korea or had immigrated elsewhere such as Japan. There were Koreans that came from the North that didn’t know if their family or friends were still alive and couldn’t go back for fear of being killed themselves or not being able to ever leave.
Not only were Koreans seen as ‘dirty’ and ‘gangsters’ and ‘thieves’ by the Japanese, but they made it extremely difficult for a Korean to get a Japanese citizenship, and even if you were a Korean and had plenty of money, nobody would want to rent a nice place to you so you’d have to end up getting a small place at the ‘bad’ side of the city with all of the other Koreans.
Basically, this book chronicled the journey of a poor daughter that goes from working in her mother’s boardinghouse in Korea to moving to Osaka, Japan with a man she barely knows and a child in her stomach from another man that she idolized and fell in love with as a girl.
This book explores so many important topics such as Religion, Discrimination, Family, and much more. I felt like all of these topics were handled expertly by the author. There was just the topic of sex that had me feeling uncomfortable, but it was easy to skim over and it wasn’t in the book too much.
There’s a part in the book that I won’t go into details about since it’d be a spoiler if I mentioned specifics, but something happens to a character as a result of feeling like nothing because he’s Korean and has spent his entire life secretly wishing he was Japanese. What ended up happening shocked me so much and I literally had to put the book down for a second once I realized why he did what he did. I hope that’s vague enough cause I don’t want to spoil this for y’all.
Although I loved this book with all of my heart, I found myself getting a bit bored towards the end. I kept on getting characters mixed up because the author decided to add in a bunch of characters with short introductions rather than long passages of explanation who they are like she did earlier in the book.
There was also a lot of mentions of sexual activity throughout the book that I guess is normal considering that this book isn’t YA, but I personally don’t feel comfortable reading stuff like that so I had to start skimming some parts as a result of that which I didn’t like, but it wasn’t much really. Most people probably won’t get bothered by this.
I feel like this review was a mess, but I tried to write the best review I could on this amazing book. I truly loved all of the characters and the way the author wrote them made them feel like real people.
My Rating: 4.5 Stars
Overall this book was a masterpiece – it has family, political intrigue, the struggles of immigrants, and much more all compiled into one book that will keep your attention throughout. Towards the end I found myself getting slightly bored, mainly due to the winding down of plot, but it was still a wonderful read I would highly recommend to anyone.
TW: Suicide, Racism
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Have you read a book set in historical Japan or Korea? Do you like Historical Fiction? Do you have any recommendations? Have you read Pachinko? Let me know!