Pachinko (Lee)

Pachinko (Lee) 
Min Jin Lee, 2017
Grand Central Publishing
512 pp.

Profoundly moving and gracefully told, Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them.

Betrayed by her wealthy lover, Sunja finds unexpected salvation when a young tubercular minister offers to marry her and bring her to Japan to start a new life.

So begins a sweeping saga of exceptional people in exile from a homeland they never knew and caught in the indifferent arc of history. In Japan, Sunja's family members endure harsh discrimination, catastrophes, and poverty, yet they also encounter great joy as they pursue their passions and rise to meet the challenges this new home presents.

Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, they are bound together by deep roots as their family faces enduring questions of faith, family, and identity. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Seoul, South Korea
Raised—Borough of Queens, New York City, NY, USA
Education—B.A., Yale University; J.D., Georgetown University
Awards—Narrative Prize for New and Emerging Writer (more below)
Currently—lives in New York, New York

Min Jin Lee is a Korean-American writer and author, whose work frequently deals with Korean American topics. Her first novel, Free Food for Millionaires, was published in 2007 and her second, Pachinko, in 2017. Both were highly regarded. Lee also served for three years seasons as a "Morning Forum" English-language columnist of South Korea's newspaper Chosun Ilbo.

Although Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea, her family came to the United States in 1976 when she was seven. She grew up in Elmhurst, Queens, New York, where her parents owned a wholesale jewelry store. She studied history at Yale and law at Georgetown University. She worked as a corporate lawyer in New York for several years before becoming a writer. She lived in Japan for four years (2007-11) and now lives in New York with her husband, Christopher Duffy, and her son, who is half-Japanese.

Lee has lectured about writing, literature, and politics at Columbia, Tufts, Loyola Marymount University, Stanford, Johns Hopkins (SAIS), University of Connecticut, Boston College, Hamilton College, Harvard Law School, Yale University, Ewha University, Waseda University, the American School in Japan. She has also lectured at World Women’s Forum, the Tokyo American Center of the U.S. Embassy, and the Asia Society in New York, San Francisco and Hong Kong.

Lee's short story "Axis of Happiness" won the 2004 Narrative Prize from Narrative Magazine. Another short story, "Motherland," published in the Missouri Review, won The Peden Prize for Best Short Story. The story is about a Korean family living in Japan, which is also the subject of her second novel, Pachinko (2017). Her short stories have been featured on NPR's Selected Shorts.

Her 2007 novel Free Food for Millionaires was named one of the Top 10 Novels of the Year by The Times (UK), NPR's Fresh Air, and USA Today. It was a listed as a notable novel by the San Francisco Chronicle and as a New York Times Editor's Choice. Lee's second novel, Pachinko, came out out in 2017.

Lee has also published non-fiction in anthologies and such periodicals as the The Times (UK), New York Times Magazine, Traveler, Vogue, Travel + Leisure, Wall Street Journal and Food & Wine. Further, she has published a number of reviews, among them, Toni Morrison's Home, Cynthia Ozick's Foreign Bodies, and Jodi Picoult's Wonder Woman: Love and Murder. All three appeared in The Times (UK).

She received the NYFA (New York Foundation for the Arts) Fellowship for Fiction, the Peden Prize for Best Story from the Missouri Review, and the Narrative Magazine Prize for New and Emerging Writer.

While at Yale, she was awarded both the Henry Wright Prize for Nonfiction and the James Ashmun Veech Prize for Fiction. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 2/15/2017.)

Book Reviews
[S]tunning…. Like most memorable novels…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…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 - New York Times Book Review

The breadth and depth of challenges come through clearly, without sensationalization. The sporadic victories are oases of sweetness, without being saccharine. Lee makes it impossible not to develop tender feelings towards her characters—all of them, even the most morally compromised. Their multifaceted engagements with identity, family, vocation, racism, and class are guaranteed to provide your most affecting sobfest of the year (Most Anticipated Books of 2017).

[A] sprawling and immersive historical work.… Though the novel is long, the story itself is spare, at times brutally so. Sunja’s isolation and dislocation become palpable in Lee’s hands. Reckoning with one determined, wounded family’s place in history, Lee’s novel is an exquisite meditation on the generational nature of truly forging a home.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review.) [A] beautifully crafted story of love, loss, determination, luck, and perseverance.… Lee's skillful development of her characters and story lines will draw readers into the work.… [T]he author's latest page-turner.  —Shirley Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA
Library Journal

(Starred review.) An exquisite, haunting epic…moments of shimmering beauty and some glory, too, illuminate the narrative.… Lee's profound novel…is shaped by impeccable research, meticulous plotting, and empathic perception.

(Starred review.) [A]n absorbing saga.… [L]ove, luck, and talent combine with cruelty and random misfortune in a deeply compelling story.… An old-fashioned epic whose simple, captivating storytelling delivers both wisdom and truth.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to start a discussion for Pachinko...then take off on your own:

1. The novel's opening sentence reads, "History has failed us, but no matter." What does the sentence mean, and what expectations might it establish for the reader? Why the tail end of the sentence, "but no matter"?
2. Talk about the thematic significance of the book's title. Pachinko is a sort of slot/pinball game played throughout Japan, and it's arcades are also a way for foreigners to find work and accumulate money.

3. What are the cultural differences between Korea and Japan?

4. As "Zainichi," non-Japanese, how are Koreans treated in Japan? What rules must they adhere to, and what restrictions apply to them?

5. Follow-up to Questions 3 and 4: Discuss the theme of belonging, which is pervades this novel. How does where one "belongs" tie into self-identity? Consider Mozasu and his son, Solomon. In what ways are their experiences similar when it comes to national identity? How do both of them feel toward the Japanese?

6. How is World War II viewed in this novel—especially from the perspective of the various characters living in Japan? Has reading about the war through their eyes altered your own understanding of the war?

7. How would you describe Sunja and Isak. How do their differing innate talents complement one another and enable them to survive in Japan?

8. Are there particular characters you were drawn to more than others, perhaps even those who are morally compromised? If so who...and why?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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