Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is an adult, historical fiction novel that takes place in Korea and primarily Japan beginning in the early 1900’s and spanning at least four generations. This book follows one Korean family as they attempt to survive in a prejudice Japan. During this time period Korean’s are considered second rate citizens, getting the lowest paid jobs, living in the worst areas and basically being treated as separate from the Japanese.
And so we follow the story of Sunja, the only child of a poor yet happy family, whose unplanned pregnancy changes everything. Fortunately, a sickly minister offers to marry Sunja and take her with him to Japan, where they can start a new life together. This is also where our story begins.
Pachinko will follow Sunja throughout her life, the lives of her children and her children’s children. Through their eyes we will see depression and trials, desperation and illness, a winner-less war, and the overcoming of hardships all while being forced to bow to a country that is not their own.
What will happen to this family whose bonds go deeper then blood?
Goodness, this book was a saga! And by saga, I mean a saga. It was long and it felt long. The story itself moves along chronologically, so as new family members are introduced, their individual stories get added on in various chapters. I’d still say Sunja is our focus but each family member gets their chance to shine. Because of the way the book is written chronologically, characters also leave the story as time goes by. Some people really like this type of narrative but it is just not for me.
Now all that being said, don’t get me wrong there were aspects of this book that I really enjoyed. It was actually a really neat perspective on a specific time period in history. We know a lot about WWII from our history books and whatnot, but I don’t think many people know about this particular perspective of it. About what life was like for Koreans prior to the North/South split and how many Koreans lived in Japan to escape starvation and ultimately death and what this actually meant for them.
Seeing a multi-generational view, we also get to see how Japan evolved over the years; what stayed the same and what viewpoints were or weren’t changed. It was interesting to see the values of each of the narrators and how their view points on their life in Japan changed or in some cases, didn’t change at all.
Overall, this book was OK. Some people will really like it but it just wasn’t for me. I give this one three stars.
That’s all for now!