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review 2020-01-14 11:46
Fate's Game
Pachinko - Min Jin Lee

Sanju, a young Korean woman, is swept into a romance with Hansu, a handsome traveller and becomes pregnant. When she tells him during one of his visits, he confesses that he is married with children, but promises to take care of her. She rejects his offer. 

 

Meanwhile, she and her mother, who run an inn, have taken in Isak, a pastor ,who falls ill. They get him better To repay their kindness, the pastor offers to marry Sanju, give her baby a name and take care of her child.

 

Sanju leaves with Isak and the two travel to Japan, where Isak will live with his brother and his wife. TImes are difficult in Japan, where Koreans are mistrusted and mistreated. Sanju falls on hard times, struggling to make a better life for her two children. She is once again rescued by the handsome, and now even more powerful, Hansu. 

 

Set in 1900s Japan, this multi-generational family saga provided an in-depth look at the Korean and Japanese prejudice, as well as life in Korea and Japan. The cultural aspects were deftly woven into the story, and the writing very succinct.

 

The title refers to a Japanese game, similar to the slot machines, and is a real draw in Japan -- even today.

 

I am usually intimidated by hefty books, but this one at 496p was easy to get through - although, I did struggle with all the names at first. Now, that I have tackled this, I am considering reading The Goldfinch. . . 

 

 

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text 2019-04-28 18:46
Reading progress update: I've listened to 50%.
Pachinko - Min Jin Lee,Allison Hiroto

Why on God's green earth does the audio version of every other book written by an Asian or Latina woman and putting women's histories front and center have to be read by a woman with a super-high voice and a style of narration dripping with saccharine????  This is beginning to drive me nuts -- particularly in this book, which has anything BUT a saccharine content (though it's been irking me for a while now).  Arrrrrggghhh!!!

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review 2018-10-29 20:48
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko - Min Jin Lee

This is one of those books that I enjoyed fairly well, but don’t have many good things to say about. It’s the story of three generations of a Korean family living in Japan, beginning in 1932 (after a first chapter set in 1910) and ending in 1989. It’s interesting from a historical perspective (I was ignorant of Korean immigrants in Japan and how badly they were treated), and Lee is a good storyteller; the book kept me curious about what would happen next, generally without over-inflated drama and without veering too far into sentimentality (though at times the opposite occurs, and events like major character deaths aren’t really followed up on nor is their aftermath developed in the text).

 

However, I found myself much more engaged while reading it than driven to return after a break. While the characters don’t fall into simple stereotypes, they are not particularly deep or complex, and I felt little emotional attachment to any of them; likewise, the writing style is adequate but quite simple. Ultimately, it was perfectly enjoyable entertainment, but didn’t inspire much thought or feeling in me despite its rather chunky size.

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review 2018-07-05 08:37
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko - Min Jin Lee

I had heard before about the people called the zainichi (ethnic Koreans in Japan), but I'd never read any books about them. This historical novel brings the spotlight to the lives of these Koreans who live in Japan and their struggles with identity, discrimination, racism and a sense of belongingor not belonging.

The main character Sunja and her family move to Japan before the Korean War, which prevents them from coming back. But it's hard to simply make a living due to the limited occupations available to them, so many Koreans turn to work in pachinko or arcade game parlors. Before reading this book I had no idea that the pachinko business (and also yakiniku) in Japan is dominated by Koreans because it's considered a second-rate employment which many Japanese won't touch. It's also difficult for these people to become Japanese citizens although subsequent generations are born in Japan, while returning to the now divided Korea is also not a simple matter as for many of them Japan is the only home they've ever known.

The story is compelling and I became genuinely invested in the principal characters. However, the writing is pretty weak and stilted with too much telling. As the story progresses through generations it spends too much time on the plot lines of minor characters when I'd rather hear more about Sunja and her family. Luckily the ending pulls things back into focus and provides what I felt to be an appropriate conclusion for such a complex topic.

Despite its flaws this book sheds light on an important issue, one that probably not too many people are aware of but deserves a wider audience. I think The Calligrapher's Daughter would be an interesting companion read for this, as it focuses on Koreans who stayed and survived the Korean War.

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review 2018-03-15 17:29
Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko - Min Jin Lee

It took me almost four months to read Pachinko. As I read, I began wondering about my slow pace. My fall semesters are busier, yes, but I still manage to finish most books in what's a timely manner for me. It certainly wasn't because I found the book hard to read in terms of comprehension or engagement. As I got closer to the end, I realized: it was because I was so invested in the characters and storytelling I had to take time to process the intense feelings the novel evoked. There are also regular gaps in time that take place between chapters where characters' situations change significantly; I needed mental space before diving into the story again. I can't think of another novel that required this sort of reading from me.

 

In addition to Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh, Pachinko has served to establish that "family sagas" can engage me, or at least when another culture is involved. Through the family portrayed here, I learned more about Korea, but it never feels like a history lesson. Everything comes from the characters. The novel also provokes thought about national and racial identity.

 

There were moments I dreaded, as with the return of a less sympathetic character, though not in a way that made me dislike the novel or its author. There were moments that shocked me to the point of gasping. There are many scenes that easily and vividly come to mind when I recall my reading, which I finished more than a month ago.

 

I would love to teach this novel. I have the feeling I may reread it some day, regardless. For me, that's a rarity, a compliment, and a sign of deep gratitude. 

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