By Lee Min-jin
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.
The New York Times listed Pachinko as one of the best 10 books for 2017 as did the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). It was short listed for the American National Book Award and to date has remained one of the top 20 books suggested for book clubs by BookMovement. In July 2017, Pachinko was selected by PBS and New York Times for their monthly News Hours Facebook Book Club discussion of a book which “helps readers make sense of the world they live in”. More recently Barack Obama tweeted that he was reading this novel during the Corona virus pandemic.
This novel is currently listed in Chapter’s Book Store as a story about the immigrant experience while the Guardian Newspaper described it as a family book. Indeed, the novel is a family saga about a Korean girl who marries and transitions to Japan. The book spans some 4 generations from 1910 to 2016. It is difficult to summarize as there are many characters with dramatically different personalities. I found the book to be a page-turner as I was constantly interested in what would happen to the characters.
The author took over 10 years to write and revise the story. As a Korean-American, she did a tremendous amount of research to present an authentic point of view. This was verified by Carolyn Kennedy (the American Ambassador to Japan, 2013-2017) who introduced Min Jin Lee’s book at a book festival on Martha’s Vineyard. In addition, the novel is set within Asian Pacific History during the second world war and highlights on-going systemic racism in Japan against the Koreans. For readers who like to read literature in advance of the film version, Pachinko was recently (March 2019) selected for production of an 8 episode television series for Apple TV. It’s a fabulous read!