Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
“History has failed us, but no matter.”
Pachinko is a story of stories. We begin with Sunja, the beloved daughter of a fisherman living on the shores of Korea. When she falls for a married man, she makes a decision that leaves a mark for generations to come. After Sunja, there’s Noa, then Soloman. Lee takes the reader on a journey spanning multiple generations, detailing the turmoil caused by Japanese colonization, the destruction of war, and most importantly, the strength of a family that has learned to survive.
An epic is the only way to encompass the vastness of the story that Pachinko tells. Lee masterfully crafts each character into complex beings with strengths, flaws, and dreams, grounding them in the bustling street markets of Korea or, later, the finest universities in Japan. Her lush prose and vivid imagery combine to immerse the reader in every setting and every distinct situation that our protagonists wind up in.
The threads that run from Sunja’s story through generations to her progeny are threads of sacrifice, love, pain, and ambition. They are threads that illustrate the most basic foundation of history there is: every action brings a reaction. Events have ripple effects. The choices and circumstances of one individual can have repercussions for generations.
Although this novel is fiction, the themes it depicts and the often-forgotten realities it portrays are true for many Koreans and Korean diaspora today.