Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

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"Living everyday in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage." ~ Min Jin Lee, Pachinko
 

Hello my loves, it has been quite awhile since I've written a book review. I was an ambassador for Book of the Month before I went on a mini hiatus from Instagram and I am really hoping I can return as an ambassador because BOTM has THEE best book selections EVER. 'Pachinko' was in my February BOTM box. I started buddy reading with my sweet friend Brittany  and Dominique  . Brittany finished a few weeks ago and I, the slow reader as usual, finished today. Yay!! So here's my review.


Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

PUBLISHED BY Grand Central Central February 7, 2017
GENRE: Adult Fiction
PAGES: 490
FORMAT: Hardcover
SOURCE: Sent by Book of the Month Club
PACING: {3.5/5}

Synopsis:

Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan. 

So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.


This is such a well written and deeply moving story. To be completely honest I had no idea what pachinko was LOL. Once I googled, I realized that I knew exactly what it was and never knew the proper name for it. This is a multi-generational story and so heart wrenching. It reminds me how everyone's human experience is different yet having daily struggles to deal with and having the need to survive is the same for everyone. The characters in this story find pachinko as an escape from the poverty stricken way of life they've become accustomed to.

There's three books in all written over the course of 70 years. I think Pachinko could also fall in the historical genre as well because it dealt heavily with with Japan's invasion of Korea. The main character of this story is Sunja. She is quite reserved, loyal and dedicated to family even if that means sacrificing herself and her own dreams. She puts everyone else first especially her children. Sunja's life, from childhood, is filled with unpredictability, emotional pain and stress. 

"Learn everything. Fill your mind with knowledge - it’s the only kind of power no one can take away from you." ~ Min Jin Lee, Pachinko

Sunja is the victim of statutory rape, by a middle-aged gangster named Koh Hansu. Later in the story, Hansu becomes unexpected financial support to the family when they relocate to Osaka, but that did not change my view of him. I dislike Hansu and what he represents; a wealthy, controlling dictator who was aware of his power and used it to manipulate the vulnerable. Sunja was taken advantage of by Hansu, and as an adolescent gives birth out of wedlock to Hansu's son. She was both ashamed and shamed. Although the context of this story obviously highlights cultural norms during a certain period of time, I couldn't help but think about how even now when women are victimized they are often shamed. Sunja's eventually married an educated, kind, refined pastor named Isak. I thought it was so interesting that she wasn't in love with Isak, but recognized him as someone who deeply wanted to take care of her and her child. She didn't need to carry the shame of her past being with Isak, although Isak was killed in prison. He went to prison protecting his family. I won't spoil you too much because I really want you to read this book. She and Isak also had a son so the relationship between Isak's son, Hansu's son, Mozasu, and all the people they encounter in their lives provides the layers in this story. The constant introduction of new characters was bit overwhelming for me, but this is over the span of the main character's lifetime so I always kept that in mind while reading.    

I loved the relationship between Sunja and her sister-in-law Kyunghee. They genuinely cared and wanted the best for one another. They were best friends and after many financial and emotional struggles throughout the story they eventually started a kimchi {pickled cabbage which I love by the way} business that Kyunghee so longed for. This became their livelihood as well as pachinko. One more acceptable in society than the other. 


I think that Lee wrote time-hopping well which I find a lot of authors struggle with. However, the time hopping accompanied with the introduction of SO many characters just made me feel inundated. I had to constantly revert back to certain parts of the story to connect new characters to the main ones. I also didn't like the pacing of this book. I do think it's possible to tell a multi-generational story over decades without sacrificing the flow of the story. However, Lee painted a perfect picture of the cultural conflict between Koreans and Japanese; personal and governmental. Even as heartbreaking as this story is, Sunja alone represents the will to never give up even through the most heinous circumstances.

My rating: {4/5}