Pachinko

Pachinko, a novel by Min Jin Lee, is a beautiful story of a Korean family. It spans most of the 20th century, and resembles Pearl S Buck's The Good Earth in its slow and gentle depiction of the sorrows and challenges that parents and children struggle with for generations. Japanese racism toward Koreans is a central theme. Also sacrifice, confusion, misjudgment, failure, and death. And passion, love, loyalty, honor, faith, and redemption.

Lee's prose is gentle, rising and ebbing like the tide. A typical snippet, at the end of Part 1 Chapter 1:

At last, Yangjin gave birth to Sunja, her fourth child and the only girl, and the child thrived; after she turned three, the parents were able to sleep through the night without checking the pallet repeatedly to see if the small form lying beside them was still breathing. Hoonie made his daughter dollies out of corn husks and forsook his tobacco to buy her sweets; the three ate each meal together even though the lodgers wanted Hoonie to eat with them. He loved his child the way his parents had loved him, but he found that he could not deny her anything. Sunja was a normal-looking girl with a quick laugh and bright, but to her father, she was a beauty, and he marveled at her perfection. Few fathers in the world treasured their daughters as much as Hoonie, who seemed to live to make his child smile.

In the winter when Sunja was thirteen years old, Hoonie died quietly from tuberculosis. At his burial, Yangjin and her daughter were inconsolable. The next morning, the young widow rose from her pallet and returned to work.

Pachinko is weakest when it relies on far-fetched coincidences to generate action, and when characters are abruptly destroyed to cut the branching tree of plot. It is strongest in conveyance of sensation – the delicate aromas and spicy tangles of food, sex, war, and hard work. In Part 2 Chapter 2:

Sunja parked her cart in the empty lot by his stall. Whenever a train stopped, she could feel its deceleration beneath her sandals. Passengers would disembark, and many of them came into the market from the entrance nearby, but none stopped in front of her cart. Sunja tried not to cry. Her breasts were heavy with milk, and she missed being at home with Kyunghee and Mozasu. She wiped her face with her sleeves, trying to remember what the best market ajummas would do back home.

"Kimchi! Delicious kimchi! Try this delicious kimchi, and never make it at home again!" she shouted. Passersby turned to look at her, and Sunja, mortified, looked away from them. No one bought anything. After the butcher finished with his hog, he washed his hands and gave her twenty-five sen, and Sunja filled a container for him. He didn't seem to mind that she didn't speak Japanese. He put down the kimchi container by the hogs' heads, then reached behind his stall to take out his bento. The butcher placed a piece of kimchi neatly on top of his white rice with his chopsticks and ate a bite of rice and kimchi in front of her.

"Oishi! Oishi nee! Honto oishi," he said, smiling.

She bowed to him.

^z - 2020-06-22