By Chelsea Gallagher
Pachinko parlors, housing vibrant slot machines, are part of a successful and lucrative industry. Popular in Japan, they create a world of luck and chance for all participants. In parlors, people from all walks of life can forget their troubles and hope one coin will change their future. As games are played, and coins dropped, players stare at their reflections in the clean glass of different machines. This reflection and world of luck is exactly what author Min Jin Lee develops in their third novel, ‘Pachinko 파칭코’.
Lee follows four generations as they move from South Korea to Japan, surviving two world wars, heartbreaks, and the challenges of self-identity. This journey begins in the fishing village of Yeongdo and moves through Japan. The characters live in Tokyo, Osaka, and Yokohama in various forms of shelter and develop a strong foundation in a foreign country. From a family of ministers and boarding house landlords to self-employed, and educated Pachinko managers, they will do whatever it takes to support their children and provide for the future.
Lee writes each page with the attempt to answer the question, How do you define home? Is it the place you were born or the place you escaped? Is it a place you’ve never been, but everyone looks like you? Is it where your family lives? Is it where you find love? With Lee’s dive into family and generational imprint, readers will question what they call home, and what they know about their parents’ sacrifices or truthful opinions on their life choices. After reading, there is no one emotion that properly describes the experience or journey.
Lee expertly inhibits each character and creates a circle of life that is strong yet constantly on the brink of collapse. Audiences will be torn between empathy and bewilderment, happiness and sorrow, shock and disappointment. You will constantly question if the characters are going on the right path or what would happen with a little extra or no luck at all.
This novel also highlights the societal impression of Korean immigrants in Japan and the struggle for their children to naturalize. It is well researched and Lee conducted hundreds of interviews to write a concise perspective. Every character in this book serves a purpose and each one links back to the former with a beautifully tied bow. As you unwrap the many layers to post-war Japan and the extended impact of trying to fit in – the gift will surprise you. Even if you are familiar with reading about racism and classism, Lee writes in a way that you feel untouchable, until you aren’t.
The writing in Pachinko is stunning and delicate. It is a silent and graceful powerhouse, with more hearts broken between the pages than mended, and the ending an echo to lost love. You will finish and reflect on your identity and feel a strong desire to call your family members to check-in. While this world is fictional, the locations and facts are real and based on historical implications that still influence our current society. Work for your ideal future and chase your goals but you never know if it will be one coin or one person to change your life forever.
Chelsea Gallagher is a freelance writer living in Saigon. She is an avid bookworm and has never found a coconut coffee she hasn’t enjoyed. She is a big supporter of Paperbacks in Saigon and can’t wait to read more for the community. Please contact at [email protected] for any creative content creation.