I recently finished a book called Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and I want to write about it because it hit me hard. I’ll try to break it down, the best I can.
The book follows the story of four generations of a family who end up in Japan and what they go through from beginning to end with everything in the middle before, during, and after the Korean War. That explanation reduces the entire story plot, but there’s so many parts to the story, that sentence is the only way I could even begin to explain it without giving everything away.
Lee writes in a detailed manner and most of the facts and the experiences were so accurate and correct throughout, everything seemed real to me because I am half Korean and my family also went through a similar experience.
When I started to read this book, I was taken aback because of the details. It seemed as if I was reading my own family history. It was so strange, yet so understandable. All the stories that my grandma had told me about our family matched so perfectly with the story outlined in the book. The experience of being zainichi in each generation was as if I was hearing it out of my mom’s mouth or my great-grandma’s mouth. I absolutely loved how it was written: the detail, the vibrant culture, the sprinkles of both Korean and Japanese language, the characters (who were developed like real people, who were like members of my family!), and the truthfulness.
Every time before I began to read, I felt this exhilaration of wanting to know what comes next and I was excited to read what may be another connection to my own family. As I read, I always felt emotionally moved with the things that were happening in the book. I kept thinking, “This is what happened (or “this must have been what happened”) to my great-uncle or my great-grandma or my mom!” But I would always feel an emotional fatigue after each reading. I was happy that I was learning more about a heritage that I never took a deep look into, but it was so real, I would be so emotionally drained. It was as if someone threw an twenty years worth of family history at me, every. single. time.
When that happens every time for 479 pages, you get pretty dang drained. Thoughts about who I am, who my family members were and what they did would continually swirl in my head with no concrete answers (my entire family lives in far away, wonderful Japan). I loved it all the way through nonetheless. There were so many parts that made me want to cry (both sad and happy), because of what happens to a character and knowing exactly what they were going through. I also had a struggle, as a person of both Japanese and Korean heritage, reading the parts about how Koreans and Japanese would talk about each other and their dislike to each other. It’s something that happens still to this day, but I still have this internal discomfort with how I am the product of these two, when these two go against odds with one another. (That’s probably a post for another day.)
When I finished it, it was like everything else was written because I was the next part in the sequence. It ended with the fourth generation, which would be my mother and her siblings, but I ended it and wasn’t as sad about it because I knew what came next. I was next. My family’s story came next.
It’s been really strange, but thanks to this book and story, I’ve been able to have a new sense of reclaiming my heritage and the lack of Asian culture I was getting recently. This has pushed me to start learning Korean and be determined to better understand my family’s history. Not only has it pushed me to finally get in touch with Korean culture, but it has also pushed me to go further in my studies of Japan as well. I want to learn more about the culture that make me, me. This book has made me realize that I absolutely do not want to let that part of me go. I want to grow my understanding of it and get in touch with it as close as I can.
Lastly, I have to say I have a great appreciation for the author. Min Jin Lee literally took over 30 years to write this story as accurately and human as possible. Her ending note was very honest and it made me realize how much writers are practically like journalists: researching, writing, trying to maintain accuracy as well as fairness as much as possible and creating a narrative tat people can relate to. I was amazed by her dedication that she put into the writing process of Koreans in Japan and it paid off so much, because here I am gushing about it.
I highly recommend reading Pachinko by Min Jin Lee because although it hit home for me in particular, I think it can hit home for anybody.