Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – Book Review

Cover of Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

From Korea to Japan

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is the fictional story of four generations of a Korean family. We first meet Yangjin and Sunja in what is now South Korea, while the north and south are united. Sunja travels to Osaka with her husband, and we accompany her through childbirth, war, loss, grief and all other experiences.

The family experiences many hardships but over time, Sunja’s sons become successful in the pachinko business. Pachinko is a type of slot machine gambling, and many people consider it connected to the yakuza, the mafia in Japan. Financial success provides material comforts but doesn’t shield the family from discrimination and other problems.

Connecting Pachinko to My Experiences in Japan

When I lived in Japan, I didn’t visit a pachinko parlor but they were all over the country with their bright lights and windowless design. There were several within walking distance of my home in Nagoya. I haven’t studied Japan’s colonial history but glimpsed some details from conversations with Chinese and Japanese students. I also read the news in Japan which reported about people in nationalist movements attacking Koreans. This book provided a few more details as it highlights some of the prejudices of people in Japanese society.

Themes in Pachinko

The book covers many themes. I was interested in the family’s story and I feel that the story is complete, even though I don’t know what happens after the book ends. My remaining wondering is about Haruki, the best friend of Sunja’s son, Mozasu (Japanese version of Moses). I feel that Haruki’s story is incomplete but the book isn’t about Haruki. I’m not quite sure of the author’s purpose in that storyline.

Pachinko a beautiful book about life, love, lost, grief, discrimination, prejudice, racism, culture. It is about family and how the choices we make shape the course of our life and that of our descendents. To me, it raises the question of whether or not each person has a destiny, and how much can one change the predetermined course of their life. Is it better to give in, than fight for the less travelled, more difficult path?

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