Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

The first book sets in a small fishing village located in Yeongdo, Busan, from 1910 to 1933. It begins with the story of a fisherman and his wife that has three sons, but only the eldest and weakest survived. Hoonie was born with a cleft palate and a twisted foot but possessed the resemblance of his father's nice-looking figure. In 1910, Japan annexed Korea when Hoonie was twenty-seven years old. The country is getting poorer, and Hoonie's family turns their house into a lodging house for extra income. Yangjin comes from a poor farmer family. A matchmaker arranges the marriage for Hoonie and Yangjin, who is just fifteen years old at that time. After three infants succumbed to different illnesses, finally Yangjin gave birth to Sunja, their fourth child and the only girl.

The rise in prices accompanied by the shortage of money was distressing. Yangjin, a thirty-seven-year-old widow, has to run the boardinghouse to earn money and take care of Sunja.

Isak is a young Christian minister that has various illnesses in his life. He is on his way to meet his brother in Osaka. Osaka's weather is warmer than Pyongyang, which probably better for his health condition. Isak stays at the boardinghouse until his health is fully recovered to travel.

Meanwhile, Sunja falls pregnant when she is sixteen years old at that time. She wasn't aware that the wealthy fish broker Koh Hansu has already married and has three daughters in Osaka until she reveals to him about her pregnancy. Isak asks Sunja to marry him not only because he is grateful that he is still alive at twenty-six years old, but also wishes to protect Sunja so that the child has a father. They travel to Osaka and live with Isak's brother Yoseb and his wife, Kyunghee. Although life is even more challenging for immigrants, they are happily living together under one roof.

In the second book, the family faces a more brutal life when war is coming, and Japan refuses to surrender to the defeat. Although Mozasu is Sunja and Isak's biological child, Noa resembles Isak's kind-hearted and love reading characteristics. As they are entering adulthood, Noa and Mozasu choose a different life path. The family struggling with their lives as an immigrant in Japan and missing their homeland, but unfortunately, it is still unsafe to do so. Also, they are facing the pressure of being a first-generation immigrant or having dual cultural identities.

The third book displays more anger towards the treatment that the Koreans received from the Japanese. It focuses on the younger Korean generation; Solomon (Mozasu's son), Phoebe (Solomon's Korean girlfriend who grew up in America) and Hana (Mozasu's partner's daughter). I'm not sure whether I am too eager to know what happens next or the author seems rushing to end the story. The third book was a bit loosely written. It has some irrelevant details that are so unusual from the author's writing style because there were no lingering or dragging stories in the first two books. I felt the card game's detailed description between Solomon and his colleagues was a bit dull for me. The author seemed to crammed several messages in the third book, given that the third book focuses on the younger generations that have different views than their elders. A young Korean who grew up in a Western country has a strong opinion about Japanese, but the older Korean generations have accustomed to such treatment due to the harsh conditions that they experienced during the war. Although the third book shows more dissatisfaction towards the Japanese, Mozasu's Japanese partner has a different perspective about Koreans. The third book was still a good read, but the first two books are better.

One of my favourite parts is the transition of the character Sunja. From a naive and innocent young girl, Sunja turns into a matured person who stands firm with her principles. She makes it loud and clear that she does not wish to see the child's father again after knowing he has already married in Japan. The child's father offers her future financial support, but there is not a single moment that she allows herself to consider it. Her strong willpower doesn't get tempted by the money that can change her life. And Isak, a young Christian minister, was well-portrayed as a kind-hearted minister who is patient, calm and offers a soothing presence.

This is my first time reading a story related to Korea's history and its relationship with Japan. I felt embarrassed to admit that I wasn't aware of the history between these two countries until now. Although it's fictional and probably some details are not entirely accurate, but one thing for sure is Japan took control of Korea between 1910 and 1945. The first book and part of the second book were based during the Japanese occupation. The story extends across generations since the Japanese occupation and after the war. It also indicates the contrast opinions from different generations about both countries and their identity. The older generation wishes to return to the homeland, but younger generations have already adapted to the current state and accepted the reality of the impermissible situation. Also, older generations have their past to ponder, whereas Noa and Mozasu, born in Japan, have nothing to attach to them except the root or the blood.

One of the most prominent themes in the story is Christianity. I felt the story was beautifully written, especially some of the characters strong faith in God. As I continued reading the book, there were so many questions that keep appearing in my mind. Should we deny or be honest with our ancestry root to survive? Do we have an alternative choice besides accepting someone's kindness who has mistreated us when struggling with our lives?

It was a very intriguing book and mesmerising to read. The story has a powerful influence that sends a loud and clear message about Koreans' distress life in Japan. It definitely leaves a deep impression on me for a very long time. The last time I read a book that made me speechless with so many unanswered questions and a rollercoaster of emotions was 'A Little Life' by Hanya Yanagihara. There were other similar books, but 'A Little Life' is the first book that appeared in my mind when I was reading this story.

ISBN: 9781786691347 (ebook)
Number of Pages: 480
Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)
More reviews can be found on Goodreads: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

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