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Book of the Month Club Selection

Pachinko is the February Selection of the historic Book of the Month Club founded in 1926 . Serving as judge, author of Queen of the Night and Edinburgh, Alexander Chee writes:

Reading Pachinko was, in many ways, personal to me, at first. My own family is from one of these small fishing islands off the coast of Korea, and this novel’s beginning was like getting to spy on my grandparents’ early lives. It introduced me to their struggles in ways they would never have—and yet, let me be clear, this novel does much more than to break an intergenerational silence. It also makes their era’s history accessible to American readers in new and marvelous ways.

The writing is remarkable—the tone never wavers, the prose is flinty and clear. The first line: “History has failed us, but no matter.” What follows is this masterpiece Lee has written, a captivating family drama that is also a sweeping epic spanning the unknown (to most of us) history of the two countries for most of the twentieth century. It’s also the story of a woman fighting fiercely for her life and her children, in the midst of poverty, war, and unbearable odds.

Most of us do not know the story of Koreans in Japan; people who came to Japan with high hopes, but who find they are treated as second class citizens –unable by law to own property, subject to discrimination and mockery, a stateless minority. Pachinko sets its story there, beginning in the early 1900s with one Sunja Baek, who becomes pregnant after a short affair with a married man, the son of a rich family. Seeking a better life abroad in Japan she leaves Korea in the company of a sympathetic pastor, as his wife. Japan is a land of opportunity in the minds of Sunja and her Korean countrymen, and they don’t anticipate the hardships that await them in their new home.

The result is a big novel to lose yourself in or to find yourself anew—a saga of Koreans living in Japan, rejected by the country they call home, unable to return to Korea as wars and strife tear the region apart. The result is like a secret history of both countries burst open in one novel. I hope you love it like I did.

— ALEXANDER CHEE

published: Book of the Month