Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee

510SEx3k77L._SY346_[1]I’m not a huge fan of the family novel, but the readers on Litsy were so unanimous in their love for this book, and because I had wanted to expand my reading this year, and mainly because I got it for $1.99 during one of those one-day sales on Amazon, I took the chance. I’m so happy I did.

The game of Pachinko is used as a metaphor for how we live our lives, taking gambles which sometimes pay off, and sometimes don’t.  It can be colorful and exciting, and it’s certainly something about which many of us obsess.  In this story, people gamble all the time, some are fortunate, like Sunja, who is rescued from infamy by a young man whose life she helped save.  And in fact, as hard as Sunja’s life has been, there have always been people there for her, there have always been opportunities, often unlooked for, like the random bounce of a Pachinko ball as it spins through its maze of pins.

Sunja and her family are Koreans living in Japan before, during, and after WWII.  They are perennial outsiders in what is a highly insulated society, yet manage to make their way through hard work and determination. Some of her family slip away, some cling to life and make it work for them, and its not always who we might expect in either case. Some make their mark, looking past their social position to the status that success can bring.

Pachinko is very much about the expectations people have of themselves and of each other, and yes, it’s very much about family.  But for once I wasn’t put off by the formulaic treatment inherent in a family story.  Even the family members I didn’t like I liked, if that makes any sense.  And in the end, the story was satisfying which is all I really ask of a novel.

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