Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Last year I read Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and found it deeply moving. The characters, story and themes have stuck with me and in our present crisis I find myself thinking about this family and how they survived great hardship.

Pachinko is an epic, multigenerational saga that follows the life of a Korean family living in Japan. It begins in the early 1900s in Korea, moving to pre- and post-war Osaka, Japan. Lee gives the reader a glimpse into history through the lives of this family. There is much to learn about Japan’s occupation of Korea, Korean migrants living in Japan during and after World War II, as well as the deep cultural differences between the two nations.

Sunja, the protagonist, comes from a poor but hardworking and respected family. Her unplanned pregnancy forces her to marry and move to Japan with a kind but sickly minister. We follow their displacement and difficulties in integrating into Japanese life, and how they find strength in each other. There are many twists and turns throughout the book, as well as jumps in time, however every scene and character is described so beautifully and deeply you are left feeling like you know them all intimately.

Sunja and her family are rich, complex characters who had me fully engrossed in their story. And I loved learning about this pocket of history that I was fairly ignorant of. I now have a deeper understanding of the cultural difficulties between Korean and Japanese people, as well as their historical context. Pachinko touches on many themes, including shame, guilt, identity and sacrifice. It’s vastness allows Lee to encapsulate the complexity of the situation and what that means for the people living it.

The hardship depicted in Pachinko is often devastating and heart breaking, but it is also a beautiful display of human resilience and adaptability. During this pandemic I think we could all benefit from some examples of strength and fortitude in the face of suffering.

What some of your own examples of strength and resilience? Is your family, neighbourhood or community coming together to support each other in this crisis?


Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
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