Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: A Tale of Strength, Love, and Family

“Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit answered to, in strongest conjuration,” reads a quote from Charles Dickens that opens Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Centering around four generations of a Korean immigrant family in Japan, the book follows the characters as they navigate through racial barriers and misfortunes in their continuous search for a home. Throughout the book, Lee weaves together an intergenerational story of love, loss, and the importance of family.



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The book begins in the early 1900s where Sunja, a daughter of an innkeeping couple from a Korean island named Yeong-do, catches the eye of the powerful gang boss Koh Hansu who enthralls her with gifts from and tales of the outside world. Discovering that she is pregnant and that Hansu is already married, she refuses to fall under Hansu’s grasp. Instead, Sunja marries the kind but sickly minister Isak and moving away from home with him to Japan. Little does she know what holds in store for her and her family because of her choice to leave behind her past.

Lee’s choice to tell the family’s story from multiple characters' perspectives will keep you hooked as the continuous clash between identities morphs into the somewhat different yet somewhat similar experiences of each of the characters. Sunja struggles to find a means to support herself and her family in light of the racial intolerance held against Korean immigrants. Meanwhile, her son Noa wrestles with his Korean heritage and Japanese nationality as he seeks acceptance from both sides, mirroring the difficult experiences faced by first and second-generation immigrants all over the world. Later, Sunja’s grandson faces a subtle form of the stigma held against his predecessors. In a way, Lee shines a light on the seemingly endless barriers held against the Korean-Japanese as she moves seamlessly across time to draw the reader in and keep them engaged as the family’s history unfurls.    

On top of that, the book features a phenomenal cast of female characters. Whether it be the gentle Sunja in imperialist Japan or the headstrong Phoebe in modern day society, the women in the book defy the stereotypical portrayal of Asian women as meek and submissive. They show resilience when all hope seems lost, and even stand up to men in order to protect those they love and make themselves heard. Personally, I found it enjoyable to be able to read about different women with such different personalities as it pointed towards the various definitions of strength. 

Pachinko is a rollercoaster of emotions that will keep you at the edge of the seat. It leave you breathless and mindblown at the end of it. Borrow it from your local library or buy it from your local bookseller!


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