Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Alexis: Read 3/17/19

Well, this book is certainly a saga. It feels like three different books, because really, it is. Pachinko covers four generations of the same family, from the early 1900’s to the 80’s. The story opens with Sunja, a Korean peasant, who meets a wealthy businessman and forms a relationship with him. When Sunja becomes pregnant, she finds out that the businessman is already married. So instead, she accepts a generous offer of marriage from Isak, a sickly Protestant preacher.

The amount of detail Lee manages to pack into this book is astounding. She covers the historical and political aspects of each time period. The book especially focuses on what it means to be Korean during a time when the country is taken over by the Japanese and then later split into two. Her characters deal with the dysphoria that they feel as Koreans living in Japan, as well as discrimination. I really enjoyed learning about the history and culture of Korea, and I could really go for some Korean or Japanese food right about now!

While extremely detailed, Pachinko is written matter-of-factly, with no flowery descriptions. Lee writes from a distant, omniscient point of view. At the end of the book, Lee discusses her reasoning behind this. She says, “‘Fair’ seems like a simple word, but I think because my subject matter is so troubling and controversial, I wanted my narrator to be as objective as possible” (494). Lee certainly achieves this, as the book, especially the first half, almost reads like a historical account. At first, I found the tone off-putting. But once the book became more political, I understood the need for distance. Still, that doesn’t neglect the fact that I prefer to get more into characters’ heads and emotions. I love character-driven stories, and while this was that, I never felt too involved in the characters’ lives.

For example, Lee has a bad habit of simply stating “and then he died.” When she did this in the beginning of the book with Yoonie, Sunja’s father, I did a double-take. She nonchalantly stated his death and they hardly went into it in the next chapter, and she repeats this throughout the book. While I understand her distance, as a reader, this was very off-putting. I wanted to feel each death and life-changing event the way the characters did.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, even if I had to enjoy it in chunks. I learned a lot about Korea’s history and the history of misplaced Koreans. I really don’t know how to rate it as a whole, as it covered so much ground.

History and detail: 5 stars

POV and writing style: 2 stars

Characters: 4 stars

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