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Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko (2017)

by Min Jin Lee

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“No one knows I'm Korean. Not one person.”
“I won't tell anyone. I understand. I'll do whatever.”
“My wife doesn't know. Her mother would never tolerate it. My own children don't know, and I will not tell them. My boss would fire me. He doesn't employ foreigners. Umma, no one can know--”
“Is it so terrible to be Korean?”
“It is terrible to be me.” p 384.

This is a novel of generations and of immigration.

It follows the fortunes of a poor family in Korea, starting in the 1930's when the Japanese occupied the Korean peninsula and other parts of Asia.

The family patriarch is the poorest of the poor, cursed with a club foot and a cleft lip and palate. But as a hard worker in a time of starvation, he is eventually offered a wife, and together they open their tiny house to boarders sleeping in shifts, many to a room.

Then their daughter falls for a handsome well-to-do stranger in the town and becomes pregnant. The stranger, it turns out, has a wife and children in Japan and Sunja refuses to become his permanent mistress. Instead she is offered marriage by a priest from North Korea. He is suffering from tuberculosis and on his way to help with his brother's church in Japan.

And so the family begins its toehold in Japan. But the Japanese have no use for Koreans; they are considered very low quality people; employers won't have them, they are forced into Koreans slum areas, and schools are beyond their reach.

Even after generations of living in Japan, there is no hope of legally becoming a Japanese citizen and the taboos against Koreans are as strong as ever. Some find secret blackmarket ways.

Others work in or rise to owning the pachinko parlors – a type of pinball-like gambling. There some are able to accumulate great wealth; sometimes by means of Korean organized crime.

Although this is a novel of Koreans in Japan, I was struck that many of the same immigration issues haunt the US today. White immigrants assimilate into the US culture. Non-white immigrants may never leave their labels behind. ( )
  streamsong | Aug 30, 2018 |
This is the kind of book sometimes called "a good read": a sprawling, entertaining, multi-generational family history. While I sometimes became exasperated with the characters, I stayed with it until the end. I learned a lot about the fraught relationship between Koreans and Japanese, about which I knew nothing. (Spoiler alert: prejudice and brutality are ugly everywhere.) I don't get the high praise it's gotten from some critics, or why it would be considered literary fiction. But it's a good book that will take you away from whatever's weighing on you ( )
  cmt100 | Aug 18, 2018 |
Wish author had limited the timeline to the first and second generation, rather than going on to the third. I wanted to know more about Sunji as she aged, and much more about Noa and Mosezu. Book was dilute by going into Moses' gay friend, and son.
  Lisa02476 | Aug 11, 2018 |
The only reason I didn't give this 5 stars is because the last quarter or so of the book felt rushed and jumped around more than the rest. There were a few side characters that had part of their story told then were never even mentioned again. And even the main story line felt a little unfinished, like I could use another couple chapters so I know what happens next!

Aside from that, Min Jin Lee did a nice job of creating a believable family, with a story that covers 80ish years. Several of the characters were very relatable, I found myself thinking that one or another's actions or thoughts were exactly what I would do or think in a similar situation. There were also times when I was arguing with the characters, wondering why on earth they did something.

One of the main themes, besides family, is dealing with racism. Having already been familiarized with the discrimination the Japanese directed at Koreans around WWII from college as well other novels, that aspect of Lee's book was less shocking and more realistic than it might've been otherwise. The way the two brothers, Noa & Mozasu, each handled their lots was so different from the other but both were completely believable.

All in all this is definitely a book I'd read again.

*received from Netgalley ( )
  twileteyes | Jul 30, 2018 |
bought the book in florida in 2018 for .50. then heard an interview with with eleanor wachtel. must be fate!
disappointing. too long. goals not clear. ( )
  mahallett | Jul 24, 2018 |
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Book description
In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant-and that her lover is married-she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son's powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.
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"A new tour de force from the bestselling author of Free Food for Millionaires, for readers of The Kite Runner and Cutting for Stone. 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"--… (more)

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