By Min Jin Lee
Setting & details: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Authenticity of Japanese characters & dialogue: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Translation quality: N/A
Entertainment value: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
My recommendation: This multi-generation story about what it’s like to be a Korean living in Japan from the early 1900s until the new millennium is heartwarmingly painful, beautifully written, and quite an accurate window into what it’s like to carve out a foothold in a society that relentlessly excludes anything Other.
This is a National Book Award winner that not only snobby critics can love. If (like me) you’re a sucker for sweeping generational tales about people who overcome hardship, bad luck and prejudice, and are sympathetic even though flawed, you’re going to love Pachinko.
It starts in 1911, with a young Korean woman is deceived by her lover, who turns out to be a gangster. When she discovers she’s pregnant, a poor preacher who is passing through Korea on his way to Japan rescues her family from ruin by offering to marry her. They emigrate to Japan and start with no money, no friends, no social standing. As the story unspools through four generations and eighty years, her legacy wends its way through her expanding family as they climb out of poverty and seek success in a land and culture that will never quite be their own.
While the main characters start out Korean, they become a special kind of Japanese, and the book perfectly captures how that age-old transition from one culture to another happens.
I also love this book because it’s such a thoughtful exploration of the relationship between hard work and luck. Unlike Western books that glorify the former and shrug off the latter, Pachinko takes the far more Asian view that both exist, and success is as often the result of one as the other.
If you haven’t yet read Pachinko, you’re in for a treat. Check out the Nov-Dec Japanagram to see if you won a copy! All subscribers are automatically entered to win—if you’re not among them yet, click this button to subscribe, and be automatically signed up to enter.
How I pick the book giveaway winners: On the last day of each month, I load all the email addresses of Japanagram subscribers into a random name picker on the Web and ask it to choose subscribers to match however many books I’m giving away that month. Then I publish the emails in the next day’s Japanagram (all emails obscured in a way so only the subscriber will be able to recognize it as their own, of course!)
*If you’d like to read more of Sei Shonagon’s meme-worthy sayings, here are Tweets from the Pillow Book, plus a couple of posts inspired by her wry sense of humor, Modern-Day Tweets from the Pillow Book, and Tweets from the Pillow Book, Pandemic Version.
The Last Tea Bowl Thief was chosen as an Editor’s Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense on Amazon
“A fascinating mix of history and mystery.” —Booklist