Archive for October 5th, 2017

Pachinko

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

UnknownBy Min Jin Lee

The Short Take:

This multi-generational epic traces the trials and loyalties of a Korean family in Japan between the early 1900s and 1989. Lee undertook significant research to write this novel and it certainly opened my eyes to a lot of things. More importantly, her characters are both inspired and inspiring.

Why?

Lee draws her title from the Japanese pachinko gambling game, where you manipulate a ball through a series of pins hoping for a lucky outcome. However, as with their slot machine cousins, luck is usually not on your side.

It’s the same for the generations of a Korean family living in Japan, where they are consistently discriminated against and marginalized. All they can do is work diligently and cling to each other while striving to improve opportunities for the next generation.

Lee’s writing style compliments the language barriers between her characters, where illiteracy and three different languages create divides. However, the respect and love within the family — along with an unbreakable hope for the future — bind them together despite the numerous catastrophes that befall, from an unwanted pregnancy to World War II. It’s a rich reading experience, with passages of great emotional power along with moments of the quietest tenderness.

What surprised me is that Koreans born in Japan, even after four or more generations, are still considered foreigners, required to register for permissionto stay at age 14, must re-register every four years, and can be deported at any time. They can not hold Japanese passports, meaning travel is impossible unless they manage to get a North or South Korea passport. It’s a tragic situation, especially considering they are were brought there to do the work the Japanese didn’t want to do.

A Little Plot:

When Korea is under Japanese rule, a very young Sunja meets an elegant older man who takes advantage of her innocence. An idealistic missionary offers to marry her give her unborn child his name, and takes her to Japan. Once there the order of the day is work and poverty, with danger lurking in many forms.

For more about Min Jin Lee and her work, click here.

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