Author: Min Jin Lee
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literature
Level of difficulty: 4/5 Dictionaries
My Rating: 4/5 Stars
Sunja, the daughter of a loving family, falls for a stranger often seen near the market in her hometown in Korea as a teenager. Their interaction leads to her pregnancy, but unfortunately, she soon realises that she cannot marry him. She instead accepts a marriage proposal from a gentle, sickly minister and moves with him to Japan. This decision further unfolds breathtakingly through the generations.
Trigger warnings: Assault, Addiction and Suicide
“Sunja had heard this sentiment from other women, that they must suffer—suffer as a girl, suffer as a wife, suffer as a mother—die suffering. Gosaeng—the word made her sick.”
Pachinko follows the lives of several individuals in a family tree from before the Japanese occupation of Korea to way after the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We are told the story from a bird’s eye view, where we see each character and learn about them from a third person’s perspective. However, the story was not difficult to follow at all. It was not only well written but highly moving too. I actually cried less than 50 pages into the novel.
Overall, the story is about life, more specifically the lives of Korean immigrants in Japan during the Japanese occupation of Korea and long after the Cold War, and thus encompasses many themes. The author did an excellent job of highlighting how racism and discrimination limit people’s options and drastically change their lives. Something that is sadly still prominent in today’s time. She was also brutally honest yet compassionate while portraying women’s lives throughout the history in which the story plays out.
However, something I was disappointed about was the lack of explanation for certain characters’ death. Then again, it might have been intentional to represent life and how we rarely get answers to many painful experiences.
Despite the story’s slow pace, it was a page-turner!