by Min Jin Lee

Overview: In this bestselling, page-turning saga, four generations of a poor Korean immigrant family fight to control their destiny in 20th-century Japan, exiled from a home they never knew.

"There could only be a few winners, and a lot of losers. And yet we played on, because we had hope that we might be the lucky ones."

In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant-and that her lover is married-she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son's powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.

Richly told and profoundly moving, Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty. From bustling street markets to the halls of Japan's finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, Lee's complex and passionate characters-strong, stubborn women, c XXXXXXC X devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis-survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history.

Faith Bowers (02/05/18): We discussed this book recently in Book Club. Most of us liked it because it was a good generational historical fiction with an immigration story in a completely foreign part of the world for us. Immigration from middle class Korea to Japan before WW2 shows us the disdain that Japanese had for Koreans. This feeling existed throughout the book even as the next generations improved economically. We acknowledge racism in this country but it is in other parts of the world as well. The protective posture of Hansu the Korean mafia lord over this Christian family creates many value questions throughout the book. I loved all the biblical names in Korean style. I read them as their Hebrew names, as it was so much easier. I enjoyed reading and discussing this book. Though it is long it is an easy read.
Rating: ***

Deanna Boe (10/04/17): This is another wonderful book that I was fortunate enough to casually pick-up at the library. The title is what attracted me. If I had not lived in Japan I would not know what Pachinko refers to. It is somewhere between slot machines and pin ball where small balls drop indiscriminately between a web of brass pins. We saw Pachinko parlors everywhere and they were always filled with people, not unlike our casinos here in the U.S. You will see how Pachinko literally saves and yet ruins the lives of some of the characters in this novel. This novel has been selected for one of the outstanding books of the year.

First of all, I want to explain the complicated relationship between the Japanese and Koreans. It was while I lived in Korea for 6 years I learned about this intricate love/hate bond, which became even clearer after I moved to Japan for 4 years. All too often we European-Americans simply lump all Asians together as one, which couldn’t be further from the truth; it is no different then all the different European countries and their connections. The Japanese took over Korea years before the start of World War II. The number one reason was the need for their lumber since Japan had stripped their own forests bare. In taking over and controlling Korea they made the Korean people take Japanese names, including their streets and towns. They were treated as 2nd class citizens in their own country, and are still looked down upon today in Japan. When the economy was terrible in Korea many of them fled to Japan looking for work. It was then the class system really showed its ugly face. Ironically, even today, you can be a 3rd or 4th generation Korean born in Japan and still not be considered a citizen of Japan. When you turn 14 you must register as a foreigner and every 3 years renew this card to remain in Japan. If you travel, even though your family might have been living in Japan for several generations, you must get a Korean passport. Only in the last few years could you become “naturalized” even though your family had lived there generations. Amazingly enough, only a few take this option because the Japanese will always view them as Koreans.

This story is about a Korean family and how their lives became entangled with the Japanese when they moved from Korea to Japan. It spans a period of over 100 years and their lives. It is a story of love, perseverance and tragedy. How the family went from the poorest of peasants to those with money and education. The heart of the story first lies with the women and how they enabled the men to achieve what they did.

The author is Korean-American, so naturally the story is written from the Korean viewpoint, but even so, I do feel she did a fair job of presenting the relationship between these two groups of people – Korean and Japanese. The situation is as it is, even today. Probably not any different then it has been in the U.S. with our different ethnic groups when they first came here to live. It is hard to believe how terribly the Irish, Italians, Polish and even the Swedish and Germans of our own area were once viewed. Remember during WW II we locked up the Japanese, but interestingly enough, not the Germans. Unfortunately our prejudice continues today, only now it is the Hispanics and the Muslims.
Rating: *****

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