Book Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

November 3, 2021


Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is a generational epic taking place in Korea and Japan. Ms. Lee is a Yale graduate, an educator and, of course, a best-selling author.

Book Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
My rating forPachinko 5
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The book centers around the Korean diaspora in Japan. They are considered second class citizens, but do not see themselves as victims. As other multi-generational novels, it’s a big story with many characters. Certainly, the characters are fascinating, suffering through humiliation, discrimination, and poverty.

I enjoyed reading about different cultures and times. I did not think that Pachinko by Min Jin Lee tried to embellish the culture to make it more palatable for the reader. The story is told in an honest manner, with an observant eye which I certainly enjoyed a lot more.

I had no idea what Pachinko actually means. Turns out it’s a gambling slot machine which is Japan’s national obsession. I actually had to look it up (here’s the video I found), but that’s the beauty of the Internet. The game is a metaphor for the way fate plays around with all of us, and yes, it certainly took me way to long to figure it out. Unlike the game, however, life has real consequences not just monetary.

Like the game, the characters in the book get bounced around. Mixing lifelong tragedy with moments of happiness makes this sprawling book seem intimate. These moments, however, eclipse the tragedy when it’s all said and done.

Another interesting aspect of the book is the clash of cultures between imperialist Japan and Korean immigrants. The people of Osaka and Korea who suffered throughout the war, as well as afterwards, are symbols of survival, as important as any others.

The author does a great job describing complex behaviors in an undeniably readable language. Without reservation, she looks square into the eyes of tragedy, and the moments of happiness sprinkled in life.


The book is divided into three sections in Korea, and Japan.

Part 1, 1910 – 1933 starts with Hoonie, Sunja’s father, and ends with the birth of Noa.

Part 2, 1939 – 1962, follows Noa and Mozasu being raised by Sunja. Once Japan enters World War II they struggle to make money, but manage. As it turns out, Hansu, Sunja’s husband who abandoned her has been supporting the family for years. The family moves to Osaka.

Part 3, 1962 – 1989, tells of Noa’s new beginning in Nagano and becomes a bookkeeper. Additionally, Moszasu becomes a rich man, owning pachinko parlors.

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Zohar — Man of la Book
Dis­claimer:I bought this book.
*Ama­zon links point to an affil­i­ate account, the money is usually spent on books

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