March 28, 2018 8:50 AM - by Min Jin Lee - Subscribe

Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan. So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.
posted by DirtyOldTown (3 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I just finished this, great timing.

I liked it, and I'm not typically into the "sweeping saga" kind of book, but at the same time I found it a bit uneven. Parts of it really grabbed me, and then there would be several less interesting chapters, then back to more interesting parts. The good parts were strong enough to keep me reading, so I don't want to sound too critical, but I ended up somewhat ambivalent.

The food descriptions throughout always made me hungry, and I would definitely go on an eating tour with the author.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:25 PM on March 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Absolutely amazing book, the first one I read this year and still my favorite so far. Loved reading about the status of Koreans within Japan and how ethnic Koreans who were born in Japan struggle to reconcile their dueling identities. Very sad book at times too without being maudlin or sentimental.
posted by supercrayon at 2:36 AM on March 30, 2018

This was a lovely story and I greatly enjoyed it. The prose varied between elegantly unadorned and somewhat pedestrian, but the story of Sunja's family through the generations never stopped being gripping. I also feel like Koh Hansu and Sunja and some of the other characters could be read as interesting stand-ins for a larger look at the collision between Korea and Japan.

I did read a comparison between the book and one of those handwritten signs in which the letters start out really big and then get smaller as the sign maker realizes they are running out of space. I kind of found myself nodding along to that. The first third of the books is so considered, with such detail about subtle reactions, internal conflict, quiet equivocating, etc. But as the action picks up, the book slips a bit into and then, and then and then and a sort of hurried pacing. We start off getting entire chapters about four minute conversations and then later, we get huge segments of key characters' lives rendered within a single chapter, or we witness the initial setup then jump back in a year later or so while things are in full swing.

I have the feeling that this is intentional, that Lee wanted to portray the increasingly fast pace of modern life compared to the more languid provincial life of the early years/setting. But I missed all of the sort of coloring in beyond the margins she gave us in early scenes, the quiet context for each spoken exchange, the internal anguish over each carefully weighed decision.

Also--this is going to make me sound old here--I was disappointed sometimes that while on the whole she'd written a classic, multi-generational family saga of the type my mom (and heck, many of our parents) might have treasured a generation ago, she still had kind of jarring, clanging scenes with swearing in them. Such a bummer to have written a great novel for readers of all ages and to have scattered in just enough cocks, fucks, and pussies that it would give many of the readers who might love it a hanky-clutching seizure. This was not a grim streetwise novel that needed that language and it would have been the same novel without that sprinkling of stuff... except one my mom would have read, too.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:51 AM on April 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

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