“Pachinko”, by Min Jin Lee

Overall Rating: 4/5

Read it, or save your time?  When you get sick of the usual genres and storylines, read Pachinko and immerse yourself in an epic about four generations of a Korean family.

What’s it about?  The story begins in the early 1900’s with Sunja, a teenage girl living in a poor, remote village in Korea.  When she gets knocked up by a wealthy, well-traveled man staying at her family’s  home which doubles as a boardinghouse, she has a decision to make: be a ‘bought’ woman and be at the mercy of a man who already has a wife and three children, or face life as an unwed mother and bring shame upon her family(remember, this is Korea in the early 1900’s).  Proud and determined, she refuses his offer and ends up marrying a kind minister passing through on this way to Japan.  She leaves behind her beloved family and moves to Japan with her new husband, where they find themselves living in poverty and profoundly discriminated against by the local Japanese.  Her decision sets off a series of events that have ramifications for decades to come.  A story of love, triumphs and failures, and perseverance in the face of adversity, this is a beautifully told, if not slightly dragged out, story.

Reviewer’s Note: Pachinko is a Japanese pinball game which people use as gambling mechanisms, similar to slot machines.  Pachinko parlors are still wildly popular in Japan, and although gambling is technically illegal there, pachinko players win little balls from the machine and redeem them for prizes.  Check out this video of a real Pachinko parlor – amazing.




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