Pachinko by Min Jin Lee Review

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee book review
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, ISBN 9781786691378, 537pp

I have struggled for a few weeks to find a good book to get into. I kept starting books and then abandoning them. I don’t think it was the books at fault, just my own strange reading mood. Then I picked up Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and suddenly I was back into reading. I couldn’t put this book down until I had made it to the end.

Pachinko is a historical fiction saga that takes place over a few generations of a Korean family living in Japan. Starting in South Korea in 1911 in a fishing village in Yeongdo, it moves through to Osaka in Japan and the Second World War and finishes up in Tokyo in 1989. Told from various point-of-views, Pachinko has a rich narrative tapestry that follows the characters’ struggle through hardships like poverty, illness, racism, war and being misplaced Koreans living as immigrants in Japan. Even when later generations of the family are born in Japan, they are still considered foreigners.

It’s a heavy book to read at times because of all the suffering, particularly during the war years when everyone is so poor and there is little food. The family go through so much–especially the women who work tirelessly to take care of their husbands and children on so little. They sacrifice everything for their children so they can improve their lot in life. A repeated phrase throughout the novel is that a woman’s lot is to suffer. It’s what is expected of them–though it’s good to see some of the female characters later rejecting this notion. The women are resilient, work hard and plan for the future constantly. They cope better with hardship than their husbands and sons and this is shown as the novel progresses.

Pachinko spans generations so there are times when it lingers in a particular period before jumping forward many years. Sometimes something terrible happens and then the story moves on without lingering. This made the story feel melodramatic but then I began to look at such moments as snapshots in a story spanning generations. Often these small events had repercussions that lasted years to a lifetime for the remaining characters.

I lived in South Korea as an English language teacher for three years so I knew a bit about Korean history during the time of Japanese occupation and then the history surrounding the Korean War. But I didn’t know anything about the Koreans who moved to Japan and what they experienced.

I don’t think I can do justice to trying to explain all the complex issues about nationhood, identity and growing up Korean in another country that this book explores. It’s hard to write a worthy review of such a richly drawn book. There are so many storylines and themes to explore. At the back of the book in the author acknowledgements, Min Jin Lee describes how she has been working towards this book for thirty years. It certainly shows.

Verdict: Read Pachinko if you’re looking for a powerful and moving read.


17 thoughts on “Pachinko by Min Jin Lee Review

  1. Sheree @ Keeping Up With The Penguins July 5, 2018 / 3:12 pm

    Oh my goodness, what a FANTASTIC perspective you must have had on this one, having lived and worked in South Korea!! 😲 I’m so jealous!! There was a lot of buzz about this one at the Sydney Writers Festival this year, and I’m so glad to see it getting so much attention – WOC writers deserve so much more than they get currently. Glad to hear this is the one that got you back up and running bookishly ❤️ still sending you all of my biggest hugs and warmest wishes!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Janereads July 6, 2018 / 6:50 am

      Thank you for your well wishes 💕. It’s a really great book and I was interested to find out more about a bit of history I knew nothing about. Plus I love reading anything that is about Korea. 😁

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lady B July 5, 2018 / 11:24 pm

    This was an interesting review to read. I could relate with the finding a good book to get into bit as I recently struggled with the same thing resulting in a couple of books which couldn’t be reviewed even though I had read them. Reading a heavy book at the moment which explores cultural history in Northern Nigeria amongst other themes.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Janereads July 13, 2018 / 12:49 pm

      Yes it’s hard to go through a reading slump, I hope you are enjoying your current read.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Erin @ Feel Learn Wonder July 6, 2018 / 3:35 am

    Yes! I loved this book. So interesting that you lived in that region. I read Nothing to Envy after reading this and continued to learn so much. Definitely recommend.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Janereads July 6, 2018 / 5:16 am

      Glad you loved it too. What’s Nothing to Envy about?

      Liked by 2 people

  4. justonemorepaige July 8, 2018 / 12:25 pm

    I have this on my summer list. I’m waiting for the saga mood to hit, but when it does, I have this one on deck and I am super excited about it!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Book Admirer July 10, 2018 / 2:48 pm

    I think I’m meant to read this book. I first heard about this through my book club but didn’t read it because I wasn’t going to make that meeting; then I saw it as another book club pick in my local bookstore and now your review. Seriously putting this at the top of my TBR!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Janereads July 10, 2018 / 2:53 pm

      It sounds like this book is stalking you until you read it 😁. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Book Admirer July 15, 2018 / 9:26 am

        I swear this book IS stalking me. I ran into it two more times since we talked. Need to go to the library and check this out.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. anaida sultana August 16, 2018 / 7:42 pm

    I loved this book and you’ve written a detailed review, shedding light on all of the important aspects covered in it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Janereads August 17, 2018 / 6:02 am

      Glad to hear you enjoyed it too!


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