Summary and book reviews of Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko

by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee X
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2017, 496 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2017, 512 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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About this Book

Book Summary

A new tour de force from the bestselling author of Free Food for Millionaires, for readers of The Kite Runner and Cutting for Stone.

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.

Chapter 1

Yeongdo, Busan, Korea

History has failed us, but no matter.

At the turn of the century, an aging fisherman and his wife decided to

take in lodgers for extra money. Both were born and raised in the fishing village of Yeongdo—a five-mile-wide islet beside the port city of Busan. In their long marriage, the wife gave birth to three sons, but only Hoonie, the eldest and the weakest one, survived. Hoonie was born with a cleft palate and a twisted foot; he was, however, endowed with hefty shoulders, a squat build, and a golden complexion. Even as a young man, he retained the mild, thoughtful temperament he'd had as a child. When Hoonie covered his misshapen mouth with his hands, something he did out of habit meeting strangers, he resembled his nice-looking father, both having the same large, smiling eyes. Inky eyebrows graced his broad forehead, perpetually tanned from outdoor work. Like his parents, Hoonie was not a nimble talker, and some made the mistake of ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. "History has failed us, but no matter." How does the opening line reflect the rest of the book—and do you agree?
  2. In a way, Sunja's relationship with Isak progresses in reverse, as her pregnancy by another man brings them together and prompts Isak to propose marriage. How does Lee redefine intimacy and love with these two characters?
  3. "Their eldest brother, Samoel, had been the brave one, the one who would've confronted the officers with audacity and grace, but Yoseb knew he was no hero.…Yoseb didn't see the point of anyone dying for his country or for some greater ideal. He understood survival and family." What kinds of bravery are shown by different characters, and what motivates this bravery?
  4. Compare Noa'...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Although some of the central events of the novel, like World War II and the atomic bomb drop at Nagasaki, are familiar territory for fiction, Lee prioritizes out-of-the-ordinary perspectives: her Korean characters are first the colonized, and then the outsiders trying to thrive in a foreign country despite segregation and persecution. I recommend Pachinko to readers of family sagas and anyone who wants to learn more about the Korean experience.   (Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Full Review (715 words).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Though the novel is long, the story itself is spare, at times brutally so. Sunja's isolation and dislocation become palpable in Lee's hands. Reckoning with one determined, wounded family's place in history, Lee's novel is an exquisite meditation on the generational nature of truly forging a home.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Lee's skillful development of her characters and story lines will draw readers into the work. Those who enjoy historical fiction with strong characterizations will not be disappointed as they ride along on the emotional journeys offered in the author's latest page-turner

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. An old-fashioned epic whose simple, captivating storytelling delivers both wisdom and truth.

Author Blurb Junot Díaz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and This Is How You Lose Her
[A] powerful meditation on what immigrants sacrifice to achieve a home in the world. Pachinko confirms Lee's place among our finest novelists.

Author Blurb Gary Shteyngart, New York Times bestselling author of Little Failure and Super Sad True Love Story
Astounding ... Min Jin Lee's Pachinko tackles all the stuff most good novels do - family, love, cabbage - but it also asks questions that have never been more timely. What does it mean to be part of a nation? And what can one do to escape its tight, painful, familiar bonds?

Author Blurb Simon Winchester, New York Times bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman and Korea: A Walk through the Land of Miracles
Both for those who love Korea, as well as for those who know no more than Hyundai, Samsung and kimchi, this extraordinary book will prove a revelation of joy and heartbreak ... Min Jin Lee displays a tenderness and wisdom ideally matched to an unforgettable tale that she relates just perfectly.

Author Blurb Darin Strauss, the national bestselling author of Half a Life: A Memoir
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is a great book, a passionate story, a novel of magisterial sweep. It's also fiendishly readable - the real-deal. An instant classic, a quick page-turner, and probably the best book of the year.

Author Blurb Erica Wagner, author of Ariel's Gift and Seizure
Min Jin Lee's novel is gripping from start to finish, crossing cultures and generations with breathtaking power.Pachinko is a stunning achievement, full of heart, full of grace, full of truth.

Author Blurb David Mitchell, New York Times bestselling author of The Bone Clocks, Cloud Atlas, and Black Swan Green
A deep, broad, addictive history of a Korean family in Japan enduring and prospering through the 20th century.

Reader Reviews

Jan

Did not want the book to end
I was in love with every character in this book. Did not want it to end. So deep.

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Beyond the Book

Pachinko

"If you are a rich Korean, there's a pachinko parlor in your background somewhere," Min Jin Lee writes in her novel Pachinko. Several of her Korean characters end up working in pachinko parlors, despite their differing levels of education and their previous experience.

Pachinko is essentially an upright pinball machine. Gamblers pay to borrow a set of small steel balls that are loaded into the contraption. Pressing a spring-loaded handle launches them onto a metal track lined with brass pins and several cups. The aim is to bounce the balls off the pins and get them to land in the cups before they fall down the hole at the bottom. A ball landing in a cup triggers a payout, in the form of extra balls dropping into the tray at the ...

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