Pachinko by Min Jin Lee [in Booklist]
A decade after her international best-selling debut, Free Food for Millionaires (2007), Min Jin 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.