I had Pachinko (the audiobook) saved on Scribd for two years but never really got around to listening to it. A lot of bookstagrammers talked about it but that wasn’t enough to get me to pick it up. What finally did it was the news of the tv series coming out in March. That, and the fact that I was able to get a pre-loved copy at a giveaway price in January. Anyway, I finally read Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and here are my thoughts on it.
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.
Richly told and profoundly moving, Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty. From bustling street markets to the halls of Japan’s finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, Lee’s complex and passionate characters — strong, stubborn women, devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis — survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history.
Pachinko, I realized as I read on is like a casino. In Japan, pachinkos have become widely popular and it is a way for men to gamble.
The story follows four generations of a Korean family and explores love, loss, resilience, and regrets, and it was far better than I expected. I read while listening to an audiobook, which made things a lot easier. (I wholeheartedly recommend this.) Min Jin Lee’s storytelling is effortless, and I felt as if I were watching a soap opera. It was layered and not at all overwhelming, despite the number of characters in the book.
One thing that stood out to me was the way morality was addressed. Sunja became pregnant by a man she had no idea was married in another town. He’s well-off and promised to look after her and the baby, which she easily could’ve agreed to. It would have undoubtedly made her life easier, but she chose to walk away and find a way to survive, and it was fascinating to see how that trait was passed down to her son, Noa.
Another theme explored here was how badly the Japanese treated the Koreans, which made me wonder why humans are so inherently chaotic and terrible. There is already racism, and there is also classism and colorism within races. It just doesn’t seem to end. (For example, consider what is going on in Ukraine.) Even in the midst of a war, racism found a way to seep through.)
I liked the women in this book. Min Jin Lee did a great job with the character development in Sunja which made her my favorite character. She loved, she worked, she fought and I wanted a happy ending for her. She deserves happiness. I cannot wait to see how her character is portrayed in the upcoming tv adaption of Pachinko. Another character I liked was Noa. His story broke my heart and I know for sure I’ll cry when I watch the tv series.
I did feel like I didn’t quite connect to the newer generation characters as I did with the older ones. It also felt disjointed and somewhat rushed in the end and this is why I rated this book 4.5 stars.
I’ll recommend this if you:
- Like historical fiction
- Enjoy multigenerational stories rich in culture and history
- Like Asian literature
- Want to learn about Japan’s occupation of Korea and how it impacted lives.
If you’ve read this, Did you enjoy it? Who’s excited to see Lee Min Ho and I’m curious to know what character you think he’ll be playing