‘Pachinko’ by Min Jin Lee – Book Review

Blurb from Goodreads

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.

My Review

A family saga exploring the themes of immigration, racial prejudice, love and honour, that starts in Korea at the turn of the 20th century and concludes in Japan in 1989. It explores the Korean-Japanese identity and the social and legal discrimination experienced by those with that heritage.

I adored the first half of this novel when it focused primarily on the character of Sunja and what happens when she falls pregnant outside of wedlock.

Sunja is the most wonderful character; so beautifully flawed and perfect all at the same time. The narrative flowed seamlessly from year to year and I was utterly swept up in her life and learning about this part of history and this part of the world that I know next to nothing about.

As time moved on and characters moved in and out of the story it all felt so natural. No side character seemed superfluous or underdeveloped. I utterly loved the characters of Yangjin, Baek Isak, Yoseb and Kyunghee.

To me the time period when all these characters were together with Sunja was the true heart of this novel. I was completely engrossed in their world and the touching relationships between each of these characters.

I also loved the use of the character of Hansu throughout the storyline. He played the apparent villain of the piece so well and it was so easy to hate his guts!!! But what was wonderful is that he became as nuanced a character as Sunja and ultimately there was so much more to him than initially set out.

However, this very much felt like a book of two halves.

The second half of the book which focuses more on the next generation just didn’t capture my heart in quite the same way. I felt there were too many characters coming in and out of the novel that the reader was expected to care about (whether that be like or dislike) but the characters were sadly underdeveloped. Characters such as Noa, Yumi, Ayame, Hana and Etsuko all played pivotal parts in the storyline but I never truly felt that connection to them because I felt they weren’t given enough page-time.

The narrative also felt a lot more choppy and I didn’t feel like the years passed as naturally as they did in the first half of the novel. The passage of time just felt more forced to me.

I’m really sad to not have loved this book more. I loved that first half so much. This book was well on its way to being rated four and a half stars at the least so very much was my enjoyment…

But then that second half happened and I am so mad!!! SO MAD!!!!!

Oh this could have been so wonderful. I usually don’t complain about a book with 531 pages being too short BUT THIS WAS TOO SHORT!!! That second half just needed to be padded out more.

This was so close to brilliance. SO CLOSE THAT IN MY ANGER AND DISAPPOINTMENT I WANT TO RATE IT TWO STARS!!!

Obviously I won’t because that would be a crime considering how excellently researched this is and how fantastic that first half is…

But it’s just is an illustration of much I had been loving this book. I’m sure in a number of days when I think back on this wonderful family saga I will have nothing but fond memories. It’s an almost excellently written book that I would still highly recommend if only to educate yourself about Korean-Japanese culture and history.

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