By: Min Jin Lee
My Goodreads Review: 5/5 Stars
“We cannot help but be interested in the stories of people that history pushes aside so thoughtlessly.”
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee tells the story of a Korean family through four generations, focusing around one woman named Sunja. The story begins in a small boarding house on an island in Korea just before the Japanese annex Korea in the early 1900s. We briefly learn about Sunja’s grandparents and her father’s upbringing before we are introduced to her. The book continues through her life, adding more characters to the story as new generations of the family are born. The reader learns about the history of the Korean people in Korea and Japan.
“In Seoul, people like me get called Japanese bastards, and in Japan, I’m just another dirty Korean no matter how much money I make or how nice I am. So what the fuck?”
First and foremost, I have to say I absolutely loved this book. I loved learning something new about a different part of the world. I loved how the story developed, beginning with a small family of three with a humble life continuing through their descendants, creating a more complicated story with each new generation. I was tied to all the characters, everyone in the family and their friends. It was interesting to see how the characters grew up and how they overcame obstacles and prejudice in each new generation. If I had to say one negative thing about this book, it would be the lack of happy plot twists; typically, historical fiction novels are pretty emotional, but this one seemed to take it to the next level. I understood why the author chose to do this, wanting to show the authentic version of life at this time.
“…a God that did everything we thought was right and good wouldn’t be the creator of the universe. He would be our puppet.”
My love for this book begins right at the start. We are introduced to the first family members of this Korean lineage. Although this family had very little, they were happy and content together, and it was beautiful. Hoonie, the son, despite all his physical deformities, was such a loving person and knowing that his lineage grew as much as it did brings a bright light into this story. I also loved Sunja, his daughter. She carried the love her father showed her every day of her life. Sunja faces so much sadness in her life, and your heart breaks multiple times for her. Each new character that is introduced to this book adds another layer of importance to this family. Every path this family takes to survive makes you think about all the people that don’t, all the people that have been left behind.
“Her father had taught her not to judge people on such shallow points: What a man wore or owned had nothing to do with his heart and character.”
As I continued reading this story, I began to wonder how such an immense story can end? How can the author tie all these characters together, provide some closure to the reader while also leaving them feeling some happiness? Well, I am pleased to say that Lee completes this story perfectly. She concludes all the characters realistically while also providing closure for her readers. I wasn’t left feeling like anything was missing. When the story ended, I was happy with how she chose to conclude this family.
“Living everyday in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage”
Overall, this is an incredible book from beginning to end. I was hooked to this story, the characters and the setting instantly. The author did an enormous amount of research to portray this Korean family as accurately as possible, which reassures the reader that what was written was not done for effect but was the reality for so many Korean families. The writing was straightforward, making the story even more engaging. For anyone looking for a historical fiction novel, this must be added to your list!
“…a man must learn to forgive—to know what is important, that to live without forgiveness was a kind of death with breathing and movement.”