Reviews for Pachinko

by Min Jin Lee

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

*Starred Review* A decade after her international best-selling debut, Free Food for Millionaires (2007), Lee's follow-up is an exquisite, haunting epic that crosses almost a century, four generations, and three countries while depicting an ethnic Korean family that cannot even claim a single shared name because, as the opening line attests: History has failed us. In 1910, Japan annexes Korea, usurping the country and controlling identity. Amid the tragedies that follow, a fisherman and his wife survive through sheer tenacity. Their beloved daughter, married to a gentle minister while pregnant with another man's child, initiates the migration to Japan to join her husband's older brother and wife. Their extended family will always live as second-class immigrants; no level of achievement, integrity, or grit can change their status as reviled foreigners. Two Japanese-born sons choose diverging paths; one grandson hazards a further immigration to the other side of the world. Although the characters are oppressed by the age-old belief sho ga nai (it can't be helped), moments of shimmering beauty and some glory, too, illuminate the narrative. Incisively titled (pachinko resemble slot machines with pinball characteristics), Lee's profound novel of losses and gains explored through the social and cultural implications of pachinko-parlor owners and users is shaped by impeccable research, meticulous plotting, and empathic perception.--Hong, Terry Copyright 2016 Booklist


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

An absorbing saga of 20th-century Korean experience, seen through the fate of four generations.Lee (Free Food for Millionaires, 2007) built her debut novel around families of Korean-Americans living in New York. In her second novel, she traces the Korean diaspora back to the time of Japans annexation of Korea in 1910. History has failed us, she writes in the opening line of the current epic, but no matter. She begins her tale in a village in Busan with an aging fisherman and his wife whose son is born with a cleft palate and a twisted foot. Nonetheless, he is matched with a fine wife, and the two of them run the boardinghouse he inherits from his parents. After many losses, the couple cherishes their smart, hardworking daughter, Sunja. When Sunja gets pregnant after a dalliance with a persistent, wealthy married man, one of their boardersa sickly but handsome and deeply kind pastoroffers to marry her and take her away with him to Japan. There, she meets his brother and sister-in-law, a woman lovely in face and spirit, full of entrepreneurial ambition that she and Sunja will realize together as they support the family with kimchi and candy operations through war and hard times. Sunjas first son becomes a brilliant scholar; her second ends up making a fortune running parlors for pachinko, a pinball-like game played for money. Meanwhile, her first sons real father, the married rich guy, is never far from the scene, a source of both invaluable help and heartbreaking woe. As the destinies of Sunjas children and grandchildren unfold, love, luck, and talent combine with cruelty and random misfortune in a deeply compelling story, with the troubles of ethnic Koreans living in Japan never far from view. An old-fashioned epic whose simple, captivating storytelling delivers both wisdom and truth. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal
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Set in Korea and Japan, Lee's follow-up to her acclaimed debut, Free Food for Millionaires, is a beautifully crafted story of love, loss, determination, luck, and perseverance. Sunja is the only surviving child of humble fisherman Hoonie (himself born with a cleft palate and twisted foot) and wife YangJin in the early 1900s. Losing her father at age 13, Sunja appears to be a dutiful daughter by working at the boardinghouse with her mother, only to surprise the family three years later by becoming pregnant by an older married man with children. She saves face when a minister at the boardinghouse, ten years older than Sunja, offers to marry her and take her to Japan with him to start a new life. What follows is a gripping multi-generational story that culminates in 1989. There are surprising twists, especially when Sunja crosses paths with her former lover while living in Japan. VERDICT Lee's skillful development of her characters and story lines will draw readers into the work. Those who enjoy historical fiction with strong characterizations will not be disappointed as they ride along on the emotional journeys offered in the author's latest page-turner. [See Prepub Alert, 8/8/16.]-Shirley Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

In early 1900s Korea, Sunja is the only surviving child of humble fisherman Hoonie and wife Yangjin. After her father's death, 13-year-old Sunja works at a boardinghouse with her mother, only to surprise the family with a pregnancy by an older married man. When another guest, a Christian minister, offers to marry her and take her to Japan, Sunja starts a new life. What follows is a gripping multigenerational story with plenty of surprising turns that culminate in 1989. VERDICT Lee's skillful development of her characters and story lines will draw readers into a delicate and accurate portrait of Korean life in Japan in the mid-to-late 20th century. (LJ 10/15/16) Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Lee (Free Food for Millionaires) tells the story of a Korean family living in Japan during the 20th century. Narrator Allison Hiroto brings a subtle, down-to-earth realism to the story of Sunja, an unmarried young Korean woman who becomes pregnant by a wealthy married man. She is able to marry a frail minister staying at her family's boarding house and moves with him to Osaka, Japan, in the 1930s, leaving her mother in a Korea that had been annexed by Japan in 1910. How this couple survive in a country that views Koreans as a barely tolerated under-class and how Sunja's two sons navigate World War II and find success and tragedy in the postwar period make for an enthralling saga, one that takes its name from the pinball-like gambling game by which Sunja's second son, Mozasu, makes a fortune. VERDICT Recommended for listeners who want a taste of anthropology with their fiction and who enjoy long family sagas. ["Those who enjoy historical fiction with strong characterizations will not be disappointed as they ride along on the emotional journeys": LJ 10/15/16 starred review of the Grand Central hc.]-David Faucheux, Lafayette, LA Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Lee's (Free Food for Millionaires) latest novel is a sprawling and immersive historical work that tells the tale of one Korean family's search for belonging, exploring questions of history, legacy, and identity across four generations. In the Japanese-occupied Korea of the 1910s, young Sunja accidentally becomes pregnant, and a kind, tubercular pastor offers to marry her and act as the child's father. Together, they move away from Busan and begin a new life in Japan. In Japan, Sunja and her Korean family suffer from seemingly endless discrimination, and yet they are also met with moments of great love and renewal. As Sunja's children come of age, the novel reveals the complexities of family national history. What does it mean to live in someone else's motherland? When is history a burden, and when does history lift a person up? This is a character-driven tale, but Lee also offers detailed histories that ground the story. 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. (Feb.) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

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