By Min Jin Lee
Grand Central Publishing, 9781455563920, November 2017, 512pp.
The Short of It:
Wasn’t aware of the conflict between Korea and Japan before reading this one.
The Rest of It:
When Pachinko first came out, I had ZERO desire to read it although I know it was quite popular when it was released and is still on many reading lists today. My discussion group selected it though so I got myself a copy and jumped in.
The story is simple really. In the early 1900s, a teenaged Sunja falls for a wealthy stranger and finds herself pregnant with his baby. Coming from a poor Korean family, she doesn’t have many options but when she finds out he is married with children, being his mistress is not one of them.
Along comes Isak. A sickly minister who takes room and board at Sunja’s home. He realizes Sunja’s predicament and offers to marry her. Although she is not in love with him, she knows that this is really the only chance she’ll have at saving face and not completely dishonoring her widowed mother.
The story from here on out is about this family, their extended family and how they, as Koreans try to make do in a Japan that does not want them. Oddly enough, the title of the book, Pachinko doesn’t really come into play until halfway through the book which I thought was odd.
I mostly enjoyed this book but it felt long, had a lot of characters who really didn’t play key roles, and included some odd scenes centered around sex, which seemed really out of place and served no purpose. The author did a good job of describing the way poor Koreans lived and many of the characters possessed a resilience that was admirable. Those strange, interspersed sex scenes seemed to not fit the tone of the book which prevented me from loving this story.
Pachinko has received much praise, but for me it was just okay. It was however, a good book to discuss, especially over a Korean meal which our hostess was kind enough to provide.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.
12 thoughts on “Review: Pachinko”
I loved this book but my mom felt like you did.
Guess your initial instinct to skip it would have been right for you. I loved it though… my favorite book last year.
Glad u tried this one; I really loved the audio. Yes, the sex seemed unnecessary but, didn’t ruin it for me.
If you want a better book that shows some of the Korea / Japan relationship, read Lisa See’s Island of Sea Women, which is really wonderful.
I actually started listening to this but eventually gave it up. Sigh.
Sorry you didn’t like it as much as you wanted. I think I’ll pass on it.
I’m really keen to read this novel which I bought long ago but haven’t picked up yet. I’ve been looking forward to it …. I’m curious about the Korean / Japanese relations.
This has been sitting on my Kindle for months. I enjoyed your review Tina, and eventually will get around to reading it.
Pachinko was a book group read for me as well. I was not looking forward to reading it. I thought it read quickly for a chunkster, taught me about a conflict I wasn’t aware of, like you and did enjoy it very much. I read it awhile ago and don’t remember the sex parts, so I guess they didn’t have much impact. I still remember much of the story which means it had an impact on me. I’m glad you read it, I always like to hear your opinion.
hmm, strange that the sex would put you off. It really must not have been appropriate or integrated well. Too many characters is a problem that would bother me, especially if they are not integral to the story
Is it weird that I don’t particularly remember the sex as being anything more than necessary to the story? I must have been too caught up in the rest of the saga.
You are not the only person to say it but I don’t see how it could be missed. I am not even talking about the sex between the main characters. There are some very out of place sex scenes that do nothing to carry the story forward. It seemed to just be there as filler which is weird in itself. Maybe it was edited poorly and there was more to it than what I got.