Tag Archives: AAPI Month

Book Club Spotlight – Pachinko

Cover for Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. A silhouette of a Korean women in a traditional Hanbok poses, facing down. In her skirt is the depiction of a woman, wearing a hankbok, with two young boys  looking out at a rocky coast line with a red sun in the background.

Pachinko by Asian-American Author Min Jin Lee is an epic historical novel that was a labor of love that spanned decades of work and research. Focusing on the imperial rule of Japan, Pachinko follows the diaspora of Koreans in Japan who faced racism and discrimination in both work and society. A National Book Award Finalist, the novel and Lee were awarded the Manhae Grand Prize for Literature, one of Korea’s highest honors in literature. The branching story of Pachinko revolves around the character of Sunja, who, as events transpire, is the perpetual foreigner in life. Not only is she literally a foreigner in Japan, but as a woman, impoverished widower, and carrying the shame of her firstborn’s father, she will always be on the outside of a society puppeteered by men above her station.  

On a small inlet outside Busan, Korea, Sunja is the young, mild-mannered, but steadfast daughter of a small lodging house owner. Living a fairly isolated life outside of the bustling town, Sunja encounters a much older man who gains her confidence and impregnates her. Believing he intends to marry her, Sunja is devastated to learn he is already married as her world crashes in on her. Before her due date, a sickly Protestant Minister offers to marry her out of the kindness of his heart to help support her and the soon-to-be-born child, Noa. Together the couple moved to Japan and had another son, Mozasu. As foreigners in Japan, the family experiences the daily hardship of poverty, World War II, and second-class citizenship as Koreans. Spanning 1910 to 1989, Pachinko follows the family as it grows and branches off in this sweeping epic of what it takes to love despite odds that will always be against them.  

“Living every day in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage”

– Min Jin Lee

Even though about 1 in every 7 Japanese adults play the game pachinko, the work is associated with ethnic Koreans. After the war’s devastation, Koreans in Japan had a hard time getting job opportunities, and the shady business welcomed them with open arms. And like many, Mozasu and Noa’s best option was through Pachinko, their lives, like the ball bearings on an uncontrollable path of fate. Lee’s Pachinko encourages and helps the reader discover a portion of history that adult Book Club groups can approach with an eye for themes of marginalization and forever ostracization as world events are woven around these minor players. Lee, who aimed to write “compelling stories of individuals who struggled to face historical catastrophes,” asks what choices are there when you are functionally powerless.

To see more of our Asian American  & Pacific Islander Voices book club titles for AAPI month, visit here 

If you’re interested in requesting Pachinko for your book club, you can find the Request Form here. There are 6 copies available. (A librarian must request items)

Lee, Min Jin. Pachinko. Grand Central Publishing. 2017.

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