Book Review – Pachinko

Pachinko Parlours

Pachinko (パチンコ) is a type of mechanical game originating in Japan and is used as both a form of recreational arcade game and much more frequently as a gambling device, filling a Japanese gambling niche comparable to that of the slot machine in Western gaming.

Pachinko parlors are widespread in Japan and usually also feature a number of slot machines (called pachislo or pachislots); hence, these venues operate and look similar to casinos. Modern pachinko machines are highly customisable…. Wikipedia excerpt.

The book –

I saw the colourful cover of the book and downloaded it on Kindle Unlimited nearly a year back. I didn’t get around to reading it till now. What an amazing book !!!

I learnt so much about Pachinko, Japan, Korea and Korean-Japanese by reading just this one book. It traces the life of a young Korean girl called Sunja. The book traces her life from the time she is a little girl to when she becomes a grandmother. The book spans events from 1910 all the way upto 1989. There is reference to WWII. Historical events like the breaking up of Korea and the Japanese colonising Korea are woven into the narrative.

Its poignant and deeply moving to read about Sunja’s struggles. Her father doting on her, her getting pregnant with Hansu’s child, Isak marrying her and bringing her to Japan, the Christian faith; Setting up of her sis-in-law Kyunghee’s Kimchi stall; realising Hansu’s hand behind all her endeavours; Noa and Mozasu growing up without Isak….

Noa’s admission to a prestigious university; his finding out about Hansu and then his suicide; Mozasu’s success as a Pachinko parlour owner; his son Solomon getting educated in the US but coming back to be a Pachinko parlour owner. An entire lifetime woven around Pachinko !

The author Min Jin Lee has used Pachinko as a metaphor for life. The game becomes the backdrop for Sunja’s life. He also brings out the fraility of human nature, showing shades of grey in each of the characters. Hansu is a powerful Yakuza but he is also truly in love with Sunja. He helps her constantly despite being the reason for all her problems. Every character in the book has several layers. No one is clearly good or bad, but spans the entire spectrum at different points in time.


Recommendation ? A must read !! If not for the story which is compelling, one should read it for understanding the Japanese and Korean culture.

Happy reading.

Goodreads review – Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

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