Pachinko (n) : Japanese pinball
After over an year of reading slump I ended up reading Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and I devoured the book like no other.
Pachinko is a saga which begins in 1910 during the Japanese colonial occupation of Korea and spans across World War II, Cold War, Korean War- nearly 100 years of history is compressed in these 530 pages.
"History has failed us, but no matter." The first line of the book sets a telling stage for the characters ahead.
Sunja, the female lead of this story, depicts resilience like no other. She is dealt the worst cards by life still she strives through, always looking for solutions, seldom senseless by emotion. The North Star of her life are her sons and all her decisions are centred around giving them the life she never had. This is where the unfair, ingrained bias against Koreans living in Japan manifests as a viper and turns her life upside down. Throughout the pages, you are wishing for a win for Mozasu and Noa, Sunja's sons, you are wishing they succeed because they deserve it. I won't spoil it for you by telling you if they do succeed in the end but what invariably does succeed is the bias history has against immigrants. Pachinko talks about the bias against Koreans born and brought up in Japan, the bias where every Korean child needs a permit to stay in the country, the bias where Koreans are only allowed to do jobs like work in or own a Pachinko parlour, which no Japanese wants to do.
Sounds familiar? Isn't this too close to home? Too real a life of Dalits, Muslims, Schedule Casts and so many other marginalised communities of India?
Read this book to understand how history repeats itself again and again. The journey of Sunja's sons and grandsons is as real as what we witness in our life but tend to ignore.
Min Jin Lee has written the book simply which gives you more time to connect with the characters and understand their thoughts. Reading the author interview at the back of the book I came to know that the narration, which I so loved, is termed as omniscient narration, where the narrator knows everyone's viewpoints at all times. It was a refreshing read for me, not a light one for sure but definitely engaging, heart-wrenching, heroic read.
After reading Pachinko I've realised I now want to read women led stories, preferably written by women. I feel I'm able to connect better with stories of women more so because of what's happening in the world today. There are multiple facets of discrimination in the world, they always seem to impact women first.
Also, I'm on a look out for authors who share their experiences of nations neglected, I want to read books of other geographies now. Pachinko was my first book on Korean history and I'm craving for more. Vegetarian is going to be my super soon next read. After Pachinko I've picked up "The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri" - the setting of this book is the Syrian unrest and 30 pages down, I'm glad I picked this up.
As a reader, I'm proud to have travelled Ireland, Afghanistan, Turkey, America, California, Nigeria, Iran, and several fabled lands of my characters but how many have I missed? I'm course correcting starting now. My reading is going to be diverse, open minded and intelligent. Gone are the days when I would just pick up any random book and spend my time on it.
My Reading List -
1. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (Korea-Japan)
2. The Bookerprt of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri (Syria)
3. Princess by Jean Sasson (Middle East)
4. Vegetarian by Han Kang (Korea)
5. Zuleikha by Guzel Yakhina (Russia)
Do let me know your recommendations, stories from other geographies :)