A gently captivating story, written in an uncommonly simple way that surprisingly was able to bring tears to my eyes, Min Jin Lee weaves years of the life of a family, from generation to generation in this groundbreaking novel.
Pachinko starts with a new couple in Korea, in love with each other yet not blessed with any children. Responsibility, love – or lack of it, heritage and duty plays a huge part in Korean families and also is premanent in the themes throughout the book. Our first main character is Sunja, the daughter of the first couple, who lives with her mother and a very faint memory of her kind father. In their boardinghouse set during the world war, Sunja and her mother goes through an unimaginable journey.
This historical fiction touches upon a lot of characters. Sunja’s story is a sad one, and one that is filled with misunderstanding and unluckiness. However there is also hope, as she and her new husband travels to Japan and settles there. Afterwards we get to know her children, Noa and Mozasu, both being two of my favourite characters. Despite the mix between male and female characters, what struck me in this story is how Lee really showcases the women strength, and how throughout all her characters’ stories, we always see how the women struggled and still prevail, how they all really care about their family and children. The bond between other women is also highly shown in this book, which I deeply loved.
Hansu did not believe in nationalism, religion, or even love, but he trusted in education. Above all, he believed that a man must learn constantly.
Another theme that I observed to be very important in this book is also immigration, and the sense of belonging of a person in a country. We see Sunja as a person who barely speaks Korean, suddenly living in Japan, goes through horrible things and having to take care of herself and her family financially. Then her children and their children are second and third generation Korean-Japanese, growing up with multiple languages and knowing a mix of both cultures, food, people. During the occupation of Japan in Korea there is a huge discrimination and prejudice against Koreans living in Japan, and the newer generation’s sense of belonging and who they really are is really deeply explored and makes a huge impact on their livelihood.
This book packs a huge amount of themes to discuss – not just the ones I mentioned but also other things, like falling in love, finding your passion in life (or not finding it all your whole life), war, pachinko industry, and even economy. Min Jin Lee was able to weave all these things in all her characters’s lives, all with a gentle storytelling and twisty-turny events that keep you glued to the pages. It’s so readable and you fall in love immediately with the characters, despite the lack of conversation on major scenes. Most of the times the scenes jump from time to time, suddenly jumping to another generation without warning which might put people off. However I really enjoyed all of the point of views she served.
Sunja had loved Hansu, and then she had loved Isak. However, what she felt for her boys, Noa and Mozasu, was more than the love she’d felt for the men; this love for her children felt like life and death.
Even so, I personally thought the last generation’s section was a little weak. I didn’t feel as strong a connection in Solomon and his journey than what I felt for the characters before, yet I still really enjoy them as they are slowly starting to be aware of the Western civilization. becoming more in the upper-middle class people economically and more conscious of everything happening in the world. I really preferred the lower-class point of view served in Sunja and Noa’s stories, nevertheless.
I specifically also adore the relationships between characters both in the family and outside. We get to know a lot of people who are interwoven with the family members, characters who feel very fleshed out and very special, and all of them serving a wonderful purpose to the story and add a new dimension to the main characters. I love the mother-son or mother-daughter relationships in here, though it wasn’t really shown much. However that lack of interaction between the mother and their children also shows the true situation of a Korean family, which also goes with married couples, how a man and wife might not kiss or hug as often as how we’d read about in Western books, but their love and their commitment is real and preset and important in these people’s lives.
All in all, with amazing characters, such enjoyable writing and a beautiful story told through this book overall, I laughed and cried and was frustrated together with all the Pachinko characters in the book. I loved every second I spent reading the book, and I would like to also thank Rita @ Bookish Rita for reading this book with me. If you haven’t read this one yet, definitely add it to your list. You won’t regret it.
Until next time, Ayunda