I picked up Pachinko because I saw it in the Kindle Unlimited Catalogue. I had shortlisted it for reading sometime last year but never got around to getting a copy. So, here are my thoughts on it. Pachinko is a multigenerational family saga of a Korean Family, before and after the World War and the sufferings of Koreans during and after the Japanese Occupation of Korea. It spans 8 decades and 4 generations, so towards the end of the story one sometimes strains to recall the minor characters’ relationship to the major ones and their corresponding character arcs, but it happened to me for only a couple of characters in whose stories I didn’t feel really interested. The characters from the first 2 generations though, they are drafted quite well.
The story starts in 1911 in Yeongdo, Korea. When Sunna, the daughter of a poor, differently abled Korean Hoonie, falls pregnant after a brief relationship with a married yazuka ( a member / senior leader of a Japanese crime syndicate ) named Koh Hansu, a Presbyterian priest Isak Baek offers to marry her and take her to Osaka, Japan to start a new life there. The rest of Pachinko is her life and the trials and tribulations she faces in a strange new land, of which she does not know the customs, and later on, a land were here ethnicity is looked down upon and discriminated by the Japanese in the aftermath of Japan’s fall at the end of WWII. What I like about Pachinko is that it is engrossing. The language is simple and it might even feel dull, to some. As the story progresses and the family expands, I felt that some characters weren’t dealt with justice, and it could certainly have been better if the character size was restricted and focussed on. But, at the same time, I think, the intention behind the ever expanding cast/character set was to portray an equally wider range of issues/evils/difficulties faced by the Koreans in Japan during that time. The story ends in 1989 in Tokyo, after spanning 4 generations and has several underlying themes apart from Pachinko. It discusses biological vs adoptive parentage, “home” and a deep longing for home in the minds of refugees and the displaced, how women ( whether in 1911 or in 1989 ) always get a raw deal in comparison to men, how the struggle to survive inspite of hardship often consumes old traditions and gives birth to new ones in the process, how parenting and parent child relationships compare and contrast in poverty.