Nikhat Parveen, New Delhi
Pachinko is a historical literary fiction masterpiece written by Min Jin-lee which was published on 7th February, 2017, and was distributed by Grand Central Publishing. This novel has cemented its position as the New York Best Time Sellers as well.
Now you must be thinking, what is Pachinko?
Pachinko refers to a Japanese gambling game played on a vertical pinball-like machine. It is used as a form of recreational arcade game, but much more frequently as a gambling device. According to the book (till 1990), the pinball business was considered to be dirty and Pachinko gave off a strong odor of poverty and criminality. People in the Pachinko business were thought of as corrupt and unfair.
“You want to see a very bad man? Make an ordinary man successful beyond his imagination. Let’s see how good he is when he can do whatever he wants.“
In this novel, author Min Jin-lee tells an endearing tale of hardships and inhumanity suffered by South Korean people. Pachinko tells the story of Korean immigrants living in Japan around 1910; and a family saga that explored the effects of poverty, racism, abuse, war, suicide, and the accumulations.
“Learn everything. Fill your mind with knowledge, it’s the only kind of power no one can take away from you.”
When the novel opens, we are introduced to Hoonie, “born with a cleft palate and a twisted foot”, who enters into an arranged marriage with Yangjin. Despite their age difference between both; there is a mutual respect and affection between them, because of their shared love for their daughter Sunja.
It is Sunja who proved to be the most important character in the novel. As a teenager, she is seduced by Yakuza Koh Hansu, leaving her with an unmarried pregnancy. But when a sympathetic young missionary asks for her hand, it seems her disgrace will be avoided.
One of the most endearing elements of Pachinko is how honorable most of the characters are. Husbands love their wives and children respect their parents. Even Koh Hansu, who was played fast and loose with the affections of a young girl, spends decades trying to help Sunja, and although she is dismissive of him later, their relationship remains one of the most intriguing ones in the novel.
“Living everyday in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage.”
But, for all the love scattered across the pages, there is hatred too. The monstrous degrees of hardship, disrespect, and inhumanity suffered by the South Korean people make up for a painful reading. They live in unbearable circumstances, are paid less than other Japanese employees, are spoken to disrespectfully, and are forced to register time and again as strangers in a land where they have been born. Jin-lee writes of this maltreatment with a stoicism that reflects the fortitude of her characters, survival is what matters to them, not human rights.
I also understood the criticisms of the detached and blunt narration in Pachinko, but I, for one, read this with ease in a steady pace. A lot of things happen within the storyline which gives us a more realistic view about the South Korean immigrants in Japan. Almost like the reader is experiencing it in front of their eyes, rather than just reading about it.
“Patriotism is just an idea , so is capitalism or Communism. But ideas can make men forget their own interests. And the guys in charge will exploit men who believe in ideas too much. “
I’m absolutely blown away by the beauty and bounty of this book. Each new chapter and every new generation that comes up has something new to offer and you can’t really put the book down easily. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve been angry and I’ve been happy alongside the Baek family. Pachinko is a good read. It is about exile, identity and our fundamental human ability to persevere and be resilient even in the worst of times.
Nonetheless, I would definitely recommend reading this novel. It is a big sweeping family saga that you cannot put down.
You can read the novel from here:
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