Review – Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee

by Min Jin Lee

Genre: Historical Fiction

Length: 496 Pages

Release date: February 7, 2017

Blurb via GoodReads: 

Yeongdo, Korea 1911.

In a small fishing village on the banks of the East Sea, a club-footed, cleft-lipped man marries a fifteen-year-old girl. The couple have one child, their beloved daughter Sunja. When Sunja falls pregnant by a married yakuza, the family face ruin. But then Isak, a Christian minister, offers her a chance of salvation: a new life in Japan as his wife.

Following a man she barely knows to a hostile country in which she has no friends, no home, and whose language she cannot speak, Sunja’s salvation is just the beginning of her story.

Through eight decades and four generations, Pachinko is an epic tale of family, identity, love, death and survival.


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

This quote neatly encapsulates many of the struggles experienced by the central characters of Pachinko. This is a generational tale which begins with Sunja, a young Korean woman whose unexpected pregnancy by an older, married man sets off a chain of events that leads her to immigrate to Japan in the early 1900’s. There, she must learn how to build a life for herself and her children, while she grapples with the difficulties of being treated as an inferior and outsider by those around her. The story follows Sunja and her family into the 1980’s.

Pachinko’s characters are well-developed, particularly in the first half of the book. Sunja and her children are very fleshed out, and allow the reader to explore the differing struggles of a first generation immigrant to those of her children, who must come to grips with being treated as visitors in both their ancestral homeland of Korea and their birthplace, Japan. Through it all, themes of resilience, loyalty, grief, patriotism, and faith tie their stories together.

The further removed from Sunja the story becomes, however, the less engaging it is. While I enjoyed this novel immensely overall, I do have to say that the first half felt clearly stronger. Lee successfully manages to get the reader emotionally invested in Sunja and her children. By the time the focus shifts to her grandchildren, the book seems to lose steam somewhat.

This novel is very character-driven; this is not a fast-paced or action-packed novel. The appeal lies in emotionally connecting with the central characters and watching them grow up in a changing society, exploring what separates each generation and what binds them together. The book is long and meandering, and while the prose may drag a little here and there, the book is overall a delight. I found myself unable to stop turning the pages; Sunja felt like a flesh and blood person to me, and I wanted to see her through to the end.

Purchase links

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Also by Min Jin Lee…

Free Food for Millionaires

In her critically acclaimed debut, National Book Award finalist Min Jin Lee introduces the indelible Casey Han: a strong-willed, Queens-bred daughter of Korean immigrants who is addicted to a glamorous Manhattan lifestyle she cannot afford. Fresh out of Princeton with an economics degree, no job, and a popular white boyfriend, Casey is determined to carve a space for herself in the glittering world she craves-but at what cost?
Lee’s bestselling, sharp-eyed, sweeping epic of love, greed, and hunger-set in a landscape where millionaires scramble for the free lunches the poor are too proud to accept-is an addictively readable, startlingly sympathetic portrait of intergenerational strife and immigrant struggle, exposing the intricate layers of a community clinging to its old ways in a city packed with haves and have-nots.



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