Books

Pachinko

Min Jin Lee's novel follows four generations of a poor Korean immigrant family, as they fight to control their destiny in 20th-century Japan.

Min Jin Lee

In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant — and that her lover is married — she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home and to reject her son's powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.

Richly told and profoundly moving, Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition and loyalty. From bustling street markets to the halls of Japan's finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, Lee's complex and passionate characters — strong, stubborn women, devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis — survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history. (From Grand Central Publishing)

From the book

At the very beginning of summer, less than six months before the young pastor arrived at the boardinghouse and fell ill, Sunja met the new fish broker, Koh Hansu.

There was a cool edge to the marine air on the morning Sunja went to the market to shop for the boardinghouse. Ever since she was an infant strapped to her mother's back, she had gone to the open-air market in Nampo-dong; then later, as a little girl, she'd held her father's hand as he shuffled there, taking almost an hour each way because of his crooked foot. The errand was more enjoyable with him than with her mother, because everyone in the village greeted her father along the way so warmly. Hoonie's misshapen mouth and awkward steps seemingly vanished in the presence of the neighbours' kind inquiries about the family, the boardinghouse, and the lodgers. Hoonie never said much, but it was obvious to his daughter, even then, that many sought his quiet approval — the thoughtful gaze from his honest eyes.

After Hoonie died, Sunja was put in charge of shopping for the boardinghouse. Her shopping route didn't vary from what she had been taught by her mother and father: first, the fresh produce, next, the soup bones from the butcher,  then a few items from the market ajummas squatting beside spice-filled basins, deep rows of glittering cutlass fish, or plump sea bream caught hours earlier—their wares arrayed attractively on turquoise and red waxed cloths spread on the ground. The vast market for seafood — one of the largest of its kind in Korea — stretched across the rocky beach carpeted with pebbles and broken bits of stone, and the ajummas hawked as loudly as they could, each from her square patch of tarp.

Sunja was buying seaweed from the coal man's wife, who sold the best quality. The ajumma noticed that the new fish broker was staring at the boardinghouse girl.


From Pachinko by Min Jin Lee ©2017. Published by Grand Central Publishing. 

Interviews with Min Jin Lee

The acclaimed novelist talked to Eleanor Wachtel in 2017 about her second book, Pachinko, and about growing up Korean in Queens, New York. 1:02:43

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