Beautiful…Lee’s sweeping four-generation saga of a Korean family is an extraordinary epic.”
– San Francisco Chronicle

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Praise for Pachinko

New York Times Ten Best Books of 2017

Lee’s stunning novel, her second, chronicles four generations of an ethnic Korean family, first in Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 20th century, then in Japan itself from the years before World War II to the late 1980s. Exploring central concerns of identity, homeland and belonging, the book announces its ambitions right from the opening sentence: “History has failed us, but no matter.” Lee suggests that behind the facades of wildly different people lie countless private desires, hopes and miseries, if we have the patience and compassion to look and listen.

– Editors of The New York Times Book Review.

Min Jin Lee’s stunning novel “Pachinko” — her second, after “Free Food for Millionaires” (2007) — announces its ambitions right from the opening sentence: “History has failed us, but no matter.”

“Pachinko” chronicles four generations of an ethnic Korean family, first in Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 20th century, then in Japan itself from the years before World War II to the late 1980s. The novel opens with an arranged marriage in Yeongdo, a fishing village at the southern tip of Korea. That union produces a daughter, Sunja, who falls in love at 16 with a prominent (and married) mobster. After Sunja becomes pregnant, a local pastor offers her a chance to escape by marrying him and immigrating together to his brother’s house in an ethnic Korean neighborhood in Osaka. Together, they embark into the fraught unknown.

Pachinko, the slot-machine-like game ubiquitous throughout Japan, unifies the central concerns of identity, homeland and belonging. For the ethnic Korean population in Japan, discriminated against and shut out of traditional occupations, pachinko parlors are the primary mode of finding work and accumulating wealth. Called Zainichi, or foreign residents, ethnic Koreans are required to reapply for alien registration cards every three years even if they were born in Japan, and are rarely granted passports, making overseas travel nearly impossible. From a young age, Sunja’s oldest son sees being Korean as “a dark, heavy rock”; his greatest, secret desire is to be Japanese. His younger brother, Mozasu, even after he accumulates great wealth through his pachinko parlors, confides to his closest Japanese friend: “In Seoul, people like me get called Japanese bastards, and in Japan, I’m just another dirty Korean no matter how much money I make or how nice I am.” Mozasu’s son, Solomon, learns this too quickly after graduating from an American university. He returns to Tokyo on an expat package with the Japanese branch of a British investment bank, then is fired once his ethnic Korean connections are no longer needed for a business deal. Still, Solomon is of a new, less wounded generation. He believes there are still good Japanese people and sees himself as Japanese, too, “even if the Japanese didn’t think so.”

Like most memorable novels, however, “Pachinko” resists summary. In this sprawling book, history itself is a character. “Pachinko” is about outsiders, minorities and the politically disenfranchised. But it is so much more besides. Each time the novel seems to find its locus — Japan’s colonization of Korea, World War II as experienced in East Asia, Christianity, family, love, the changing role of women — it becomes something else. It becomes even more than it was.

Despite the compelling sweep of time and history, it is the characters and their tumultuous lives that propel the narrative. Small details subtly reveal the characters’ secret selves and build to powerful moments. After Sunja arrives in Osaka, her modest life is underscored when she enters what is only the second restaurant of her life. When her husband, Isak, is finally cleared of trumped-up charges and released from jail looking “both new and ancient,” their oldest son is “unable to take his eyes off his father for fear he’d disappear.” Their reunion is moving yet understated: Isak simply holds his son’s hand and says: “My dear boy. My blessing.”

Dozens more characters amplify the vortex of points of views: a hostess bar girl, a farmer who has “no wish for the war to end just yet” so that he can benefit from the higher black-market prices to realize “his grandfather’s dearest wish” of buying the adjoining land. The numerous shifts are occasionally jolting, but what is gained is a compassionate, clear gaze at the chaotic landscape of life itself. In this haunting epic tale, no one story seems too minor to be briefly illuminated. Lee suggests that behind the facades of wildly different people lie countless private desires, hopes and miseries, if we have the patience and compassion to look and listen.

– Krys Lee for the New York Times
This is a captivating book I read at the suggestion of a young staffer on my team — a historical novel about the Korean immigrant experience in wartime Japan. Min Jin Lee draws you in from the first line, “History has failed us, but no matter.” The book is named after a popular game in Japan that’s a bit like a pinball machine — a game of chance where the player can set the speed or direction, but once it’s in play a maze of obstacles determines the outcome. Staying true to the nature of the game, Min Jin Lee’s novel takes us through four generations and each character’s search for identity and success. It’s a powerful story about resilience and compassion.”
– President Barrack Obama
If proof were needed that one family’s story can be the story of the whole world, then Pachinko offers that proof. Min Jin Lee’s novel is gripping from start to finish, crossing cultures and generations with breathtaking power. Pachinko is a stunning achievement, full of heart, full of grace, full of truth.”
– Erica Wagner, author of Ariel’s Gift and Seizure
Astounding. The sweep of Dickens and Tolstoy applied to a 20th century Korean family in Japan. Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko tackles all the stuff most good novels do—family, love, cabbage—but it also asks questions that have never been more timely. What does it mean to be part of a nation? And what can one do to escape its tight, painful, familiar bonds?”
– Gary Shteyngart, New York Times bestselling author of Little Failure and Super Sad True Love Story
Top 10 Books of February of the Canadian Library Association’s Loan Stars Program”
– Toronto Star
Through it all is a message about love, faith, and the deep-rooted bonds of family. Min Jin Lee gives us a phenomenal story about one family’s struggle that resonates with us today. It will take hold of you and not let go!”
– American Booksellers Association: INDIE NEXT Great Reads Feb 2017 (Jennifer Steele, Boswell Book Company)
50 Most Anticipated Books of 2017”
– Nylon
PACHINKO is about paying dues to a forgotten history; to the complex and fraught Japan-Korea relationship that endured well into the 90s and lingers to this day. But it doesn’t wear its heart—or historical truths—on its sleeve. What drives this novel is the magisterial force of Lee’s characterization; her ability to ground the narrative deeply and intimately in the details of daily life. Also threaded through it are questions of home, identity, nationhood and tradition—including the belief of its female protagonists that ‘a woman’s lot is to suffer.’”
– South China Morning Post by Bron Sibree
Most Anticipated Book Club Reads of 2017 and Biggest Historical Fiction Release of 2017”
– BookBub.com
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