I’ve finished reading Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, the next book on my Historical Fiction Around the World series. Last time I shared my initial thoughts about the book. Now that I’ve completed the story, I’d like to share what I’ve learned as well as some thoughts on the experience of reading this particular story.
The story, first published in 2017, is told through the eyes of various characters, so as time passes the point of view shifts between female and male perspectives. That in itself makes this an interesting story to read and, I’m sure, to tell. The story is divided into three parts, or books. Let’s take a look at the breakdown and see what we can glean:
Book 1 Gohyang/Hometown 1910-33 (23 years) pp5-147 (143 total pages)
Book 2 Motherland 1939-62 (23 years) pp153-325 (173 total pages)
Book 3 Pachinko 1962-1989 (27 years) pp331-485 (145 total pages)
We start with essentially the origin story of one of the main female characters, Sunja. Now, we don’t actually start with her but with her parents’ story and then we flow into hers. It’s interesting to note that the story ends in her point of view as well. So Sunja is a connecting thread through the entire book. What happens in Book 1 has direct consequences for actions and reactions throughout the rest of the story, too.
Book 2 tells us about life as this family knows it. The choices and decisions they—and in particular Sunja—must make for the best interests of the family. As would be expected, this middle book is the longest one, providing the meat or heart of the story.
Book 3 weaves together the various individual stories into a recognizable pattern. The threads of each individual point of view create a final tapestry I can sit and ponder, and compare to my own life and decisions. Note that this book/part is also entitled Pachinko, which is a pinball-type gambling game the Japanese are apparently very fond of. According to this story many Korean Japanese found themselves working in the industry to make a decent living in Japan. But that industry was also rife with crime and mob involvement. So money earned from working for a Pachinko parlor was “dirty” and tainted.
I think this is a moving story about family and heritage and its impact and influence on your life—both good and bad. It peeks behind the curtain of family dynamics and above all the choices made for the sake of family reputation, pride, well-being. Or to hide something shameful.
I learned a lot of interesting things reading this book. Seeing how Korean Japanese were viewed and thus treated from the perspective of the Korean Japanese was quite eye-opening for me. I admit to having a rather naïve, protected view of the world. Not that I don’t have a sense of the hardship, injustice, and dismaying aspects of how some people treat others. I do. I just haven’t experienced it first hand. So I thank Min Jin Lee for writing this book to educate people like me. How else would I ever know what it’s like to be a foreigner in the country in which you were born? To be dismissed and put down because of your ancestry? This story, despite the fact or actually because of it being fiction, lets me witness and eavesdrop on the thoughts and feelings of the characters so I can appreciate, if not fully comprehend, what they faced. I mean, how could I know without having lived it myself? Reading about it has to suffice in this instance.
Which of course is the reason why I read about people and places and the society and history of both. To learn about what their lives are like in places and times I can’t know from firsthand experience. I recommend this book for the insights and lessons learned through seeing how it feels to be treated with disrespect and disdain. It’s pretty dang uncomfortable and upsetting when you put yourself in those shoes…
I hope you had a loving Valentine’s Day. Happy Reading!
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