Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
As someone pretty unaware of the history between Korea and Japan in the 20th century, this novel was pretty fascinating in the history it covered.
The story follows four generations of a Korean family through the political turmoil of Japanese colonization, wartime restrictions, prejudices and seeking a better life in Japan. So many Korean families moved to Japanese cities and towns to find jobs and a better life for their family, but instead found discrimination, extremely disgusting living conditions and huge pay gaps.
We find out that Pachinko is a Japanese arcade game and the Pachinko parlors were believed to have mobsters, or shady and dishonest people. But really, they may have just been Korean. With just this history I was very interested in the book, and it was both fascinating and horrifying to hear how Korean-Japanese people were treated for so many different generations; even when generations were born in Japan and had never lived on Korean soil.
Min Jin Lee does a fantastic job of explaining all these different situations with different characters and family dynamics. But, the characters were a bit lackluster for me. I think since there was so much history and so many characters, it was hard to completely connect with any of them. Or, once you were about to connect, they died or disappeared out of the other characters’ lives. On other occasions, you’d be following their life story and it would get really interesting and suddenly you jumped to another new character and find that things had changed in everyone’s lives. It was a bit too disjointed with the actual characters’ lives so I found myself never truly caring about them or hoping we’d move onto someone else one too many times to truly enjoy this book.
Synopsis: In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant--and that her lover is married--she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son's powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.