Pachinko by Min Jin Lee


The Game of Life

Fans of epic sagas, as well as Asian history may find this a captivating read.

“Living everyday in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage.

Min Jin Lee, Pachinko

Sanju, a young Korean woman, is swept into a romance with Hansu, a handsome traveller and becomes pregnant. When she tells him during one of his visits, he confesses that he is married with children, but promises to take care of her. She rejects his offer. Meanwhile, she and her mother, who run an inn, have taken in a pastor named Isak. He falls ill and they nurse him back to health. To repay their kindness, the pastor offers to marry Sanju, give her baby a name and take care of them. Sanju leaves with Isak and the two travel to Japan, where Isak will live with his brother and his wife. TImes are difficult in Japan, where Koreans are mistrusted and mistreated. Sanju falls on hard times, struggling to make a better life for her two children. She is once again rescued by the handsome, and now even more powerful, Hansu. 

Set in 1900s Japan, this multi-generational family saga provided an in-depth look at the Korean and Japanese prejudice, as well as life in Korea and Japan. The cultural aspects were deftly woven into an engrossing story filled with richly developed characters. The writing is succinct yet maintains a rich, descriptive quality that is atmospheric.

The title refers to a Japanese game, similar to the slot machines, that is a real draw in Japan — even today.

I am usually intimidated by hefty books, but this one, clocking in at 496 pages, was easy to get through – although, I did struggle with keeping all the names at first. Now, that I have tackled this, I have hope that I could get through The Goldfinch . . .

If this book title interests you, you might also like these books about Asian and Southeast Asian cultures:

A Detective in Laos: The Delightful Life of a Suicide Pilot by Colin Cotterill:

Must I Go by Yiyun Li

The Case of The Missing Detective by Tarquin Hall