Book Review

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

This year, as you will soon see from the coming reviews that I post, I have been on a kick of reading Japanese and Korean fiction. So, naturally, this book seemed like a perfect one to get stuck into and get stuck into it I did!

Pachinko follows the life of Sunja starting with her father, Hoonie, and ending with her grandson, Solomon. After a teenaged Sunja falls for a wealthy businessman she becomes pregnant, at first she is excited and looks forward to marrying her lover. However, she quickly realises this can’t happen when he reveals he is already married with children. With her mother worried about how life would be difficult for them if she stayed in Korea, she speaks to a minister on his way to Japan that’s staying at their boarding house. He offers to marry Sunja and raise her child as his own. Sunja leaves Korea to begin a new life with new people in Japan, but it isn’t the easier life that her mother wanted for her.

Although the novel spans four generation and covers several decades, many of which being some of the most important in the 20th Century, the novel flew by. The pacing was excellent, each change in setting or year was clearly identified at the beginning of the chapter so you were always aware of how much time had passed. The transition from year to year and character to character flowed so naturally. When the protagonists shifted from Sunja, to her sons, to her grandson, I was barely aware of it because it was done seamlessly. It felt right to have the shifts happen when they did as you have built a relationship with the characters from their lives as told by the previous protagonists.

This was also achieved through how Lee depicted each of the characters. You could tell that not only is she a talented writer but she really understands the people that she was portraying. There were several times where the characters just felt like real people and I became so invested in their lives because of this. Sunja is so admirable, I certainly wouldn’t have been as strong as her. I would have immediately caved and lived as Hansu’s kept woman. I was also fascinated by her sons Noa and Mozasu, seeing how they can be raised in the same situations but turn out so different (or so it seems at first).

Whilst this is a work of fiction, it isn’t difficult to believe that there were many Korean families that experienced hardships like this in Japan. Who most likely still face some similar hardships now. Min Jin Lee does a superb job of weaving history into the novel without it dominating the novel or the characters. You are aware of the wars going on, however they are not the sole focus and you see the events through how the family develops and reacts.

I could speak about this book for hours, as it’s one of my favourite novels that I read this year and potentially in general. However, I will restrain myself before this post becomes too long, and simply urge you to pick this book up for yourself!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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