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Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

*This review is riddled with spoilers

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee was recommended to me on Reddit, I heard so many praises regarding this book but didn’t come around reading it until it became our December Book of the Month. I was intrigued by the title and had to force myself not to google it as I literary (yikes) live for those moments when a title starts to make sense for me.

Since the book was filled with plenty of compelling characters, I’d like to talk about those who stood out for me the most:

First off is Sunja, the only daughter of a widowed innkeeper, she was portrayed as this quiet girl who kept to herself and it was heartbreaking to see her story unravel (I got so furious on her behalf I had to shout “Niooo” when she was getting married) She was smart and practical about her life and I couldn’t help but wonder even if the starting of story was set during the early 90’s that what would I do if I was in her place? Being sixteen and naïve, would I be able to take a stand for myself? Because I know for a fact that I can easily be persuaded by kind words and some nudging, it’s a good thing that I can be pretty good at deflecting I guess. Why wasn’t she given any credit whatsoever for turning him down; she had enough self-respect for herself. I wonder how the story would progress if only she accepted to become Koh Hansu’s mistress.

Talking of Koh Hansu, apart from the fact that I was weirded out by him asking Sunja to call him Oppa, I couldn’t hate him even if the author was relentless about making his character sound like an antagonist (That scene where he beat this girl was so out of place). He had his flaws and I was bitter about him halfway through the book but I still liked him more than Baek Isak, I’m sure he was nice and all but it just got on my nerve how he was presented as a saviour for Sunja. Again, I know this was done keeping the timeline in mind but you’d be surprised how similar things are here still compared to those remote times in Korea.

Baek Isak’s brother Yoseb deeply angered me. The way he controlled his wife Kyunghee, how he screamed at them because the women, god forbid, paid off his debt. He didn’t even care about Sunja’s condition. I have no respect for him. On the other hand, I really liked how Kyunghee was loyal to him throughout the book. It just warmed my heart at how nice and accepting she was of Sunja.

There are so many other characters I would love to discuss, like Mozasu, he was the polar opposite of Noa and just did what he wanted to do, he played by his own rules whereas Noa, from the start, tried to do the right thing and because I think Noa’s fatal flaw is that he took what others thought of him too personally. Which I believe is what drove him to kill himself. I don’t think he didn’t care for his family, including Sunja. But he was too sensitive. The novel says as much at one point:

“Noa had been a sensitive child who had believed that if he followed all the rules and was the best, then somehow the hostile world would change its mind. His death may have been her fault for having allowed him to believe in such cruel ideals.”

He had to die to show this is not the way to go. Do you think it would’ve been easier for him if Sunja told him the truth about his father herself? rather than letting him finding out from someone else.

Later on, Solomon (Mozasu’s son) ended up saying this which I think is brilliant and covers the whole point of this novel, People will always have something to say, you do you.

“‘Why don’t you want me to do this?’
‘I sent you to those American schools so that no one would—’ Mozasu paused. ‘No one is going to look down at my son.’
‘Papa, it doesn’t matter. None of it matters, nee?'”

This book also made me realize how important it is to talk openly with your children. To listen to them and provide a safe space to discuss everything. They won’t come to you because they don’t know how to. They are more scared of the consequences that they have to bottle up all these feelings or find other ways to take out their frustration. You don’t get to complain that your kids are alienating from you because you dismiss their concerns, won’t even let them talk openly because you have to maintain an ‘authoritative’ figure in the house.

Did I like this story? I don’t know, I didn’t feel much when I closed this book it just crept on me slowly. There was a lot of filler content, and the story introduced so many characters that didn’t put much impact on the story (like the farmer, why was he introduced and where did he go later on?). I stayed up the whole night to finish so it was engaging but I’m not even sure if I read it because I was procrastinating as my analytical chemistry exam was the very next day. I remember reading The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender during my college days and it felt *a bit* similar to that I don’t know, It was also a multigenerational epic minus the magical realism part. The feeling of people general unacceptance of anything unique or “weird” gave me that impression. Anyway, I also wasn’t a huge fan of how major events happen offscreen, the prose tells rather than shows, out of blue Yumi’s death. How Mozasu was never told the truth about Noa that he’s his half brother, also Mozasu just rolling with his brother’s disappearance without doing any effort to find his brother. He never questioned anything and remained clueless!

The thing that I might’ve missed out on, what happened to Kyunghee’s parents and in-laws? Did they die for real because Koh Hansu didn’t feel much like saving them?

My ratings: 8/10

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