Wow. I have yet to find a book I don't like in 2018. I want to give a disclaimer before this review to say that I won't always write incredibly positive reviews, but somehow I have just managed to read wonderful books so far this year. That being said, here is my review for the first novel I've read this year!
I have to admit that Pachinko is not the kind of book that I would normally be drawn to. I probably wouldn't have read it if it hadn't been a gift. While I love novels, I tend to gravitate towards thrillers and mysteries, and it has been a while since I've read a drama.
Pachinko is a long family drama set in the 20th century in Korea and Japan. It spans decades and is filled with many characters and many storylines that all converge to create one truly incredible book. Pachinko is amazing not just for the beautiful and simple writing style from Min Jin Lee, but also because of the incredible history that it provides about two countries and many cultures throughout an entire century.
The novel is primarily about a Korean girl named Sunja, the daughter of a crippled man and his wife who run a boarding house in Korea in the 1920s. When Sunja is a teenager she has an affair with a rich man and becomes pregnant. Instead of allowing the rich man to essentially buy her, Sunja accepts a marriage proposal from a kind, sickly man who is visiting the boarding house. Together they move to Osaka, Japan to start a new life. The rest of the book documents the series of events that happen in the decades after they move. It follows the stories of Sunja's children and their upbringing during some of the most important events of the 20th century. The story doesn't conclude until the late 1980s.
Pachinko is about love, pain, heartbreak, war, oppression, and religion. It delves deep into the hardships that Koreans faced in the 20th century. The book deals with the traumatic events of the Second World War - including the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It also alludes to the rise of the North Korean dictatorship and the loss of of a homeland for many Koreans. Racism and poverty are key to the storyline, as are colonization and immigration.
Min Jin Lee is brilliant. I don't say that lightly. There are very few books that I have read that have made me emotional to the point of tears. I can think of only two others. What Lee did with this book is write a story that, though far removed from my own life, is relatable in an unexpected way. This book reminded me of the reality that my grandparents faced when they left their home countries of Scotland and Slovenia to start a new life in Canada, and how incredibly challenging it must have been to start over in a new place. It also reminded me how easily life can change. One small decision can set off a whole chain of events.
What I love about this book is that it doesn't romanticize love and family. Lee expertly depicts the devastating effects that lies and residual anger can have on relationships and how hard it can be to overcome one mistake. Her characters are imperfect. They can be strong and brave and hardworking but also deceitful and criminal. They are very real.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes epic novels, romance, war novels, and historical fiction. To me this seems like the perfect book to read in a book club - there is so much to talk about and so many characters to analyze and form opinions on. And there is something in here for everyone to love.
You might also like:
- The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
- The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney