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Pachinko, by Min Lin Lee.

April 21, 2017

Pachinko, by Min Lin Lee.  Grand Central Publishing (2017).       496 pages.

2 stars

A historical novel about a Korean family who migrates to Japan where they face discrimination even after they succeed financially.

Min Lin Lee was born in South Korea and came to the United States with her parents in 1976 when she was seven.  Her family owned a wholesale jewelry store in Queens.  She attended Yale and Georgetown Law School, was a corporate lawyer, and lived in Japan as an adult.  Her previous novel was  Free Food for Millionaires.

Pachinko begins in a coastal village in Korea in 1910 and continues into the post-world-war-II era in Japan.  The central character is Sunja, a young woman who refuses to marry the man by whom she becomes pregnant.  Instead she marries a Korean man, migrating to Japan with him.   He is a missionary to other Koreans there, and she has a second son with him.  Their family unites with those of an older brother to struggle with poverty, uncertainty, and discrimination though the world war.  Eventually the sons prosper through management positions in the pachinko parlors, which feature a particular Korean-style pinball machines.  Although the family becomes wealthy, they are never treated as equal to the Japanese.

I appreciated the book as a story of migration and ill-treatment that features a country other than the United States.  The writing of the book weakened its appeal as literature.  This is a big book in both pages and characters; there is little sense of unity.  Neither the characters or the plot were well-developed, leaving the reader with little sense of why people acted as they did.  Subplots were introduced and then left hanging.  Family members simply and inexplicably got very rich by being good human beings.  Gay and lesbian themes were handled in a stereotypical manner.

I cannot recommend a book this poorly written.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 21, 2017 8:02 pm

    That’s a pity, because as you say, it’s a story that needs to be told. But of course it needs to be told well.
    I wondered if Grand Central was a vanity publisher, but no, it’s an imprint of Hachette. They should be ashamed of themselves!

  2. April 22, 2017 10:45 am

    Maybe I was overly negative about this book because I had expected it to be much better.

  3. Jane Mason permalink
    January 18, 2019 9:01 pm

    I have recently read this book and found it very interesting and informative. Great to learn about the fate of the Korean people in Japan.
    I was very disappointed to come across americanisms which would not have been evident in the era in which the book was written. It is much better to write in a good standard English and to add in sayings and comparisons of time and location in which the novel is set.
    Otherwise a fascinating insight into the lives of the Korean people.

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