Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

July 30, 2018
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Published By: Grand Central Publishing on November 14, 2017
Format Read: Paperback Edition (500 pages)
Genre: Historical Fiction/ Family Saga/ Japan Lit
Series: Stand Alone
Source: Purchased
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. 


Content Warning: Domestic Abuse, Torture, Racism, Violence


Full of heartbreak, struggle and perseverance this book taught me a lot about family and identity. We follow Sunja's family as they survive war, poverty and discrimination because they are Korean. Throughout this family drama I learned about the animosity between Korea and Japan that led to wide spread discrimination against Korean people. The author did a great job of developing characters to root for. Sunja has two sons Noa and Mozau they each have different approaches to life but have limited options for employment because they're Korean. The hardships this family faces as refugees who are trying to make a place for themselves was heartbreaking.

Finally it is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship.  Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly die for such limited imaginings.
-Benedict Anderson
The intimate details of marriages and desperate times jumped off of the page, and engaged me as if I was apart of the family. The only issue I had while reading is the pacing. Some of the scenes and important changes for the family would happen really fast with little explanation. While others were very detailed and drawn out. Despite the uneven pacing I learned more about Korea and Japan then I ever had, so it was a great read for me. There are some disturbing descriptions of violence but nothing was over the top or added just for shock value.
"Pay attention: The ones who pay the shit tax are mostly people born in the wrong place and the wrong time and are hanging on to the planet by their broken fingernails. They don't even know the fucking rules of the game. You can't even get mad at 'em when they lose. Life just fucks and fucks bastards like that."
While the Story slowly changes point of views through generations I enjoyed having male and female perspectives of major events that happened in the book. The deep seated animosity between Koreans and Japanese continues throughout generations. Sunja's family has different ways of coping with being outcast and limited because of where they were born. Everyone had to find ways to survive and while I didn't agree with some character's choices I understood how morality can be twisted and grey. This book highlighted the deep costs and trauma that racism and religious persecution can cause. There are wonderful characters and gems that everyone can relate to and learn from.

Recommended for Readers who
- can enjoy slow paced historical fiction
- want to learn more about Korean and Japanese history
- can handle intimate descriptions of detrimental and deep seated racism


Min Jin Lee, Pachinko, InToriLex
Min Jin went to Yale College where she was awarded both the Henry Wright Prize for Nonfiction and the James Ashmun Veech Prize for Fiction. She attended law school at Georgetown University and worked as a lawyer for several years in New York prior to writing full time.

Lee has spoken about writing, politics, film and literature at various institutions including Columbia University, French Institute Alliance Francaise, The Center for Fiction, Tufts, Loyola Marymount University, Stanford, Johns Hopkins (SAIS), University of Connecticut, Boston College, Hamilton College, Hunter College of New York, Harvard Law School, Yale University, Ewha University, Waseda University, the American School in Japan, World Women’s Forum, Korean Community Center (NJ), the Hay Literary Festival (UK), the Tokyo American Center of the U.S. Embassy, the Asia House (UK), and the Asia Society in New York, San Francisco and Hong Kong. In 2017, she won the Literary Death Match (Brooklyn/Episode 8), and she is a proud alumna of Women of Letters (Public Theater).

From 2007 to 2011, Min Jin lived in Tokyo where she researched and wrote Pachinko. She lives in New York with her family.

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