Yeongdo, Korea 1911. In a small fishing village on the banks of the East Sea, a club-footed, cleft-lipped man marries a fifteen-year-old girl. The couple have one child, their beloved daughter Sunja. When Sunja falls pregnant by a married yakuza, the family face ruin. But then Isak, a Christian minister, offers her a chance of salvation: a new life in Japan as his wife.
Following a man she barely knows to a hostile country in which she has no friends, no home, and whose language she cannot speak, Sunja’s salvation is just the beginning of her story.
Through eight decades and four generations, Pachinko is an epic tale of family, identity, love, death and survival.
Pachinko is a classic family saga set in a place and period of history about which I know (or knew) very little. The Japanese occupation of Korea during the first half of the 20th century led to many Koreans moving to Japan to escape poverty only to be faced with discrimination, and even when the story ends in 1989 their grand-children and great-grandchildren who were born in Japan are treated as immigrants with less rights than those of native born Japanese.
Ms Min Jin Lee has created a compelling story which encompasses the legacy of the occupation, the Second World War, the division of Korea into two countries during a bitter civil war. But it is not merely a novel about history, Asian peoples have a deep spirituality which also shapes them and the way they live their lives so Confucianism, Buddhism and Christianity underpin the actions of a well-crafted cast of characters who bring Pachinko to life. The story-arc is complex, weaving the lives of a number of families together, and it is easy to become attached to them as you sympathise with the troubles they face, the lives they are forced to live and the heartbreak which follows them.
Ms Min Jin Lee has an eye for detail and brings to life the living conditions, food and work place of her characters; life in the city and life in the countryside are equally well portrayed as are the trials and tribulations of an immigrant community where people struggle with a sense of dual identity. There is much in this novel which will speak to people today about their place in society – how welcoming they are to others, how much others strive to fit in. But above all it will speak to people on a human level as Sunja and her family struggle with friendship and duty, pain and loss, and above all love, in a way which affects all people no matter what age or nationality.
Pachinko is absorbing, distressing and yet heart-warming in almost equal measure. Yes, it is a family sage, but it is also much more than that. It is a story of resilience and compassion as four generations of Koreans struggle to find their identity and place in a world which does not want them. A powerful novel which I heartily recommend.
Pachinko can be found on Amazon
You can find our more about Min Jin Lee here
You can find more of my Recommended Reads here
1 thought on “Recommended Read – Pachinko by Min Jin Lee”
Hi Dorinda, How are you and Pete? Hope you are weathering the latest lockdown well. We are still in England as schools are stills closed in India. It’s given Us some time to set up the house we bought in Devon. I hope you and Pete will be able to visit sometime when Covid gets under control. We plan to just spend a few weeks a year here as we are still very involved with the work in India. Anyway I was mostly writing to say how much I appreciate your recommended books. I often choose my next read from your recommendations! I recently finished The First Casualty—which inspired me to read another novel by the same author—The Two Brothers. It’s a very gripping and somewhat heartbreaking account of life in Germany from the 20’s and through the war.
Well that’s all! Love to you both, Susanna
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