Pachinko by Lee Min-jin

Pachinko follows the life of Sunja, the daughter of poor parents living in colonial Korea. Sunja meets Hansu, an older Korean, and her life is changed forever.

I first read this book in 2017 in a single day. As I reread Pachinko as an older version of myself, the experience has been like rediscovering an old friend. As I read and the story comes back to me, I find deeper appreciation and insights into the characters and the various themes covered in this book.

“There was consolation: The people you loved, they were always there with you, she had learned…”

Lee Min-Jin

Pachinko is a story about several things but for me, it is largely a story of love. The quiet, intense love parents have for their children. The story leads with the love Hoonie’s parents have for their only surviving son with a clubfoot and harelip. Hoonie passes down this love to his daughter Sunja, who in turn absolutely lives for her two sons, Noa and Mozasu.

There’s also romantic love. There are different shades of it in this story. There is the love born out of duty, love out of gratitude, forbidden love, sexual love, and my personal favourite, inexplicable love. This last shade is the one Hansu and Sunja feel for each other. It is the kind that isn’t easily defined. The type of love that changes a person and can never go away. I believe this love was the central theme of this story.

“We cannot help but be interested in the stories of people that history pushes aside so thoughtlessly.”

Lee Min-Jin

Another theme I enjoyed exploring is history. I am fascinated by the Second World War, and most of Pachinko is set in this period. Although the war has no direct impact on the characters, its effects are responsible for the economic hardships Sunja and her family face throughout the two-thirds of the story.

As a budding fan of anime and K-drama, Pachinko is a melting pot of three of my pleasures. I enjoyed discovering more about their cultures, mannerisms, cuisine, and ideals. Pachinko also explores the cultural friction between the Japanese and their Korean colonial subjects at the time. The impact of these differences on the characters was quite painful to read at some points in the story. I’ll be looking to reading more Asian stories.

Finally, I enjoy stories where I get to see characters grow. In Pachinko, I got to see the progress of at least three generations. I’m sure this feeling is quite the same as what parents feel watching their kids grow up, face struggles, and make achievements. Setting this against a historical backdrop is the icing on the cake.

If you enjoy knowing your characters intimately, history, a well-written story, and Asian culture, I recommend you pick up this book. I’d also recommend to fans of Buchi Emecheta’s Joys of Motherhood. Similar vibes.

I will be writing a review of Apple TV’s screen adaptation very soon.

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