Author: Min Jin Lee
Date Published: February 7, 2017
Rating: 4.25/5 stars
Date read: February 4, 2020 (reread)
Pachinko is a multi-generational story following a Korean family that eventually migrates to Japan. With this family we see the hardships Koreans face when Japan invades in the late 1800s, and watch the struggles continue with the second world war and its aftermath.
It’s stories like Pachinko that make me love historical fiction and make me wish I read more of the genre (if you have any recommendations I’d love to hear them, I’m not a fan of WWII historical fiction, unless it takes place in the non-western world).
The first time I read Pachinko I really had no background knowledge of the history of Korea from the late 1880s until after WWII, and this story is extremely eye opening into the discrimination and hardships Koreans had to face during that period. It was extremely sad to see the country divided and to follow citizens who, living in Japan, wanted to return home but were unable to. The novel also showcases cultural disassociation, we have a character who wishes to fit in and be Japanese because of the constant discrimination he and his family face, but we also have characters who are proud of their Korean heritage.
I really feel the highlight of Pachinko is its characters, while they aren’t always likeable they are extremely believable and I always come away from the story feeling like I know them as real people. I think Sunja (arguably the main character) is one of the most persevering and smartest characters, who does what she needs to do to survive; I love a character who makes the most of their situation while still holding true to their convictions.
If you’re looking for a culturally and historically rich story, with a lot of heartbreak, I’d highly recommend Pachinko.
Content warning: racism, suicide, violence, substance abuse, death of a loved one
P.S. This is a great pick if you’re participating in the Asian Readathon!