Book Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

In a time of racism, lack of empathy, and general uncertainty, Pachinko (Min Jin Lee, 2017) is an excellent read.

TL,DR: Read Pachinko if you are interested in: Asian family histories, war, class and society, gender roles, battling racism, religion, shame, and/or enjoyed Les Mis. 

What is Pachinko? The title of the book comes from a Japanese gambling game comparable to American slot machines. But the book itself centers around a Korean family who eventually immigrates to Japan and their struggles- socioeconomically but also intersected with class, race, and religion. It's fascinating to view history from the perspective of an underrepresented, almost persecuted group- in this case Koreans in Japan from World War I era to the 1990s, and consider and understand their role in something seen as Japanese (pachinko). 

The themes are heavy, and the book to me was basically an East Asian Les Mis. Some parts are difficult to read, because the book can feel slow as history itself, but also because of the pain of the characters. Min Jin Lee provides the first hand perspective of multiple characters, and for me the variety keep me motivated to read more and get through parts that felt sluggish. Even reading from the comfort of my bed, the style of the book made me as a reader feel like I had persevered alongside the characters.

The theme that I enjoyed reading about the most was the class struggle- getting through life with the hope and possibility that things will get better, besides the circumstances of one's birthplace/race. Everything comes together in the last chapter of the book, which makes the saga worth finishing. 

As someone who was told to go back to Asia in elementary school, I loved how the author approached racism and discrimination, and highly recommend Pachinko to anyone interested in learning more about racism. Min Jin Lee also apparently practiced law before, left, and then became a finalist for the National Book Award for fiction (maybe lawyers can contribute more to the world by leaving law?) I am glad she told this story, and am excited for the TV adaption when it is released!


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