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Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Book Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

BOOK review
Started on: 7 August 2022
Finished on: 25 August 2022
Title: Pachinko
Author: Min Jin Lee
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Pages: 490 pages / 490 pages (e-book)
Year of Publication: 2017
Price: Rp 161,500 (Link: Periplus)
Rating: 4.5/5

"For a woman, the man you marry will determine the quality of your life completely. A good man is a decent life, and a bad man is a cursed life—but no matter what, always expect suffering, and just keep working hard. No one will take care of a poor woman—just ourselves." 
It was in the early 1900s in Korea when Sunja was born. At the age of sixteen, she met a wealthy fish broker named Koh Hansu who's attracted to her. After spending time together, Sunja's unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame her family. Feeling betrayed by Hansu, Sunja finds unexpected salvation when a young minister named Baek Isak offers to marry her and bring her to Japan to start a new life. And so begins the story of many different people in exile from a homeland they never knew and got caught in the arc of history. In Japan, Sunja's family had to endure harsh discrimination, catastrophes, and poverty—yet they also encounter great joy as they pursue their passions and rise to meet the challenges presented to them. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, they are bound together by deep roots as their family faces questions of faith, family, and identity.
"Man, life's going to keep pushing you around, but you have to keep playing."
"People are rotten everywhere you go. They're no good. 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."
I've been wanting to read Pachinko for so long but only managed to read it this year after it's been officially turned into a TV series. Over the years, I've read so many positive reviews on this book and a lot of people have been recommending this book to me. That's why I'm a bit worried as I was about to start this book as I don't want to set my expectations too high and get disappointed afterwards. I honestly went into this book without knowing much about it. The only thing I know is the fact that pachinko is a kind of slot machine in Japan and the main character of this book is Korean. I'm also quite excited to read a historical fiction set in Korea and Japan because I don't think I've ever read a book with that setting.
"God controls all things, but we don't understand his reasons. Sometimes, I don't like his actions, either. It's frustrating."
"But a God that did everything we thought was right and good wouldn't be the creator of the universe. He would be our puppet. He wouldn't be God. There's more to everything than we can know."
The book is divided into 3 parts, starting from the year 1910 and ends in 1989. In the span of almost 80 years, the author tells the story of 4 generations of this family starting from Yangjin and Hoonie who had a daughter named Sunja—who becomes the main protagonist of this story. After losing her father, Sunja helped her mother maintain the lodging house that they owned. At the age of sixteen, she encountered Koh Hansu, who changed the trajectory of her life completely. Sunja found herself pregnant and felt betrayed by Hansu's undisclosed secret. Her life was saved by a minister who stayed in their lodging house named Baek Isak, who kindly offered to marry Sunja and bring her to Japan to start a new life together. Upon their arrival in Osaka, they discovered that Koreans are treated poorly and encountered discrimination while trying to survive. As the story progresses, the focus started shifting to Sunja's two sons: Noa and Mozasu—the third generation of the family, and ends with Sunja's grandson, Solomon. I personally think Pachinko is more character-driven because the plot doesn't really have a central conflict or climax in the story; it's mostly about how each of the characters overcame the struggles they encountered during that era in history. That's why the story feels a bit flat at times because there's no final resolution to look forward to. I was actually a lot more interested in Sunja's story arc than the third and fourth generation of the family. And so I started losing interest towards the end of the book, thus I'm giving this book a 4.5/5 rating.

Even though the plot wasn't completely satisfying, I absolutely love how thought-provoking this book is. As Koreans living in Japan during World War II, the characters suffered a lot and was treated poorly because they hold no power. For powerful people like Hansu though, it seems like anything can easily be done when he wants it to happen. In the midst of such a challenging time, the characters who believed in the existence of God must've struggled to keep their faith and morality in check. It can be tempting to transform bad deeds into good ones with the excuse of trying to survive and make a living—which was portrayed in one of the scenes in this book. Another thing that I find really interesting is how the author uses the unpredictable nature of the game pachinko as a metaphor for the characters' stories. People who kept coming back to play on the pachinko machine always held on to the possibility that they might win and hope that they might be the lucky ones. Pachinko is also very fitting for the title of this book because it played a huge role in the characters' lives and the business definitely turned their lives around.
"Learn everything. Fill your mind with knowledge—it's the only kind of power no one can take away from you."
"It was easy to recall a time when there was no money for tea and a time when there was none to buy."
Since this book is so character-driven, we surely need to discuss about the characters. The first one that I'll mention is Sunja—our main protagonist, because her character development is amazing. She started off as an innocent yet hardworking girl living on a little island. After moving to Japan, Sunja proves to be extremely resilient despite all the obstacles that stood in her way. I admire her persistence, her love for family, and how she doesn't easily give up in raising her two sons—Sunja is truly an inspiring character! And then there's the angel in this whole story, Baek Isak—who's the epitome of selflessness and kindness 🥺. His gentleness towards Sunja is the sweetest, I'm glad Sunja didn't take him for granted. I'm especially amazed at how Isak can maintain his good conscience amid persecution. His fate left me feeling devastated, though I can't say anything more to avoid spoiling the story. Another character that I adore is Kyunghee, Sunja's sister-in-law. Upon Sunja's arrival in Japan, Kyunghee welcomed her with warmth and treated her like a sister. I also respect Kyunghee's loyalty towards her husband Yoseb, she stayed by his side even when misfortunes happened and she had the option to live a different life. There are many different characters throughout the book but these three are the most memorable ones for me.

Reading Pachinko allowed me to experience the lives of Korean living in Japan in the 1900s. I learned the historical elements during that period and sympathized with the characters as they overcame various challenges. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the writing style from start to finish. The descriptions are straightforward but depict the situation very well, allowing the readers to feel the weight of the emotions. Even though I slowly lost interest towards the end (because the focus is no longer on my favorite characters), this story certainly left a deep impression on me. I think I will always remember Sunja's resilience that helped her family get through tough times and come out stronger than they were before 💪.
"It was still hard for a Korean to become a Japanese citizen, and there were many who considered such a thing shameful—for a Korean to try to become a citizen of its former oppressor."
"Every morning, Mozasu and his men tinkered with the machines to fix the outcomes—there could only be a few winners and a lot of losers. And yet we played on, because we had hope that we might be the lucky ones. How could you get angry at the ones who wanted to be in the game. Etsuko had failed in this important way—she had not taught her children to hope, to believe in the perhaps-absurd possibility that they might win. Pachinko was a foolish game, but life was not."
by.stefaniesugia♥ .

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