Review: “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee

Min Jin Lee’s second novel, Pachinko, is a sprawling exploration of the lives of Korean migrants living in Japan over the course of the 20th  century. For those who don’t know, pachinko is a Japanese gambling game which is kind of a cross between pinpall and poker machines, a combination of luck and chance could see you win. (For those who like visuals, try this Youtube video.)

Japan annexed Korea in 1910, and the following year the match-maker visits Hoonie’s surprised parents in their village outside the port-city of Busan: though Hoonie is responsible and kind, he has a club foot and a cleft palate, and was never expected to marry. The novel follows the course of Hoonie’s one surviving child, daughter Sunja, through her relationship with a married yakuza (gangster) at 16, the marriage to Christian Isak from North Korea which saved her family’s reputation, their time in Osaka, and through the lives of her children Noa and Mozasu as they separately become scorned pachinko-parlour managers, and Mozasu’s son Solomon as he gets a first-class American education and later returns to Japan. It is a generational rags-to-riches story as Sunja’s family fights against facing the prejudice and repression which is the fate of all Koreans, stateless migrants who cannot claim either Korean or Japanese citizenship.

The book is well written and gives emotional insight into Korean and Japanese history, as well as the toll taken by the Koreans’ sub-citizen status in a biased nation. (You can all draw your own contemporary parallels, I’m sure.) A good read for those who like the long-term absorption of the family saga, with the added knowledge from two cultures most Australians aren’t familiar with.

Pachinko – Min Jin Lee – PB – Apollo – $33


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