“History has failed us, but no matter.” When a writer opens her second novel with a sardonic statement like that, you hope that she’s up to the task of making it stick. Have no fear, Min Jin Lee is. Starting in the early 20th century, Pachinko (Grand Central, $27) chronicles the fortunes of a Korean family, first in a Korea under Japanese occupation, then as immigrants in Japan. The pachinko parlor that the family runs while in Japan is a perfect symbol of the kinds of hardships Korean immigrants in Japan face. The gambling establishment is their road to a better life. In fact, it’s the only such road. Perhaps this gives you the impression that the novel is only good as social commentary, its characters puppets. Actually, the reverse of is closer to the truth. It’s as if Lee started with the minutest details of her characters’ lives and the commentary grew out of it organically. When she observes how quickly Yangjin and Sunja have to get over Hoonie’s death, “At his burial, Yangjin and her daughter were inconsolable. The next morning, the young widow rose from her pallet and returned to work,” you feel the hardscrabble life of a Korean peasant all the more. One reviewer has aptly compared Lee to Thomas Mann. This is one book you can lose yourself in.
Pachinko - Min Jin Lee
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Published: Grand Central Publishing - February 7th, 2017
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Published: Grand Central Publishing - November 14th, 2017