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Archive: Other Books > Pachinko/Lee - 4 stars

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Anita Pomerantz | 6276 comments Sidebar: This book really could have been tagged "society" though it is not . . .so definitely someone could read it for this month's tag.

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Pachinko is such an apt title for this historical fiction story that takes place in Japan. Pachinko seems to be a cross between a vertical pinball machine and Vegas style slots. Each time the ball is dropped, you don't know where it will go, and you don't know if the outcome will be a payout. Needless to say, it usually isn't. The lives of Lee's characters, four generations of a single family, are similarly subject to forces beyond their control . . .both fortune and prejudice.

This book reveals a lot of interesting history about Japan's annexation of Korea and the subjugation of Koreans in the Japanese society (stuff I knew nothing about). Even generations of Koreans born in Japan were not granted Japanese citizenship, and they were relegated to live in slums and hold down a limited selection of occupations (one prevelant one being the management of pachinko parlors). The history is so subtly woven into the storytelling, it really feels seamless.

The characters were well drawn and sympathetic, but as a reader, I did have a few issues. A couple of characters seemed to act "out of character" to me . . .I could get my head around their actions, but they didn't seem consistent with the person portrayed earlier in the book. And, something about the latter half seemed off. The initial two generations were portrayed so thoroughly, and then as time moves on, the pacing seemed to speed up, almost as if the author felt a rush to finish. For the first half of the book, I couldn't wait to pick it up again. For the second, I kinda wanted it to finish already. I could have done with one less generation.

All in all, Lee writes a very atmospheric book that focused on a historical and political situation that was fresh to me (please don't make me read any more books about World War II or the Civil War). She has great storytelling skills overall, and I think many lovers of historical fiction will find this a worthwhile add to their TBR.


message 2: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy | 8289 comments I've been very excited for this book! So glad you enjoyed it. I think yours is the first review I've seen. Great review.


Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 5639 comments Anita ... why not put it in the SOCIETY thread? If you think it fits, it fits....


Tracy (tstan) | 1182 comments I liked this one, too- it opened my eyes to a part of the world history that I didn’t know (thanks, 70s/80s education that focused primarily on Europe and North America). I agree with you- it wasn’t as cohesive as it could have been, but it was well worth reading.


Anita Pomerantz | 6276 comments Tracy wrote: "I liked this one, too- it opened my eyes to a part of the world history that I didn’t know (thanks, 70s/80s education that focused primarily on Europe and North America). I agree with you- it wasn’..."

I must have had that same education. Honestly, sometimes I just feel so ignorant about historical events. Personally, I feel like I was taught the same things (at different levels of depth) over and over and over.


Anita Pomerantz | 6276 comments Book Concierge wrote: "Anita ... why not put it in the SOCIETY thread? If you think it fits, it fits...."

You make a good point . . .not sure I trust my own singular judgement, lol!


Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 5639 comments Anita wrote: "Even generations of Koreans born in Japan were not granted Japanese citizenship,..."

I think the USA is unique (or at least one of a very few countries) in that if you are born here you are automatically a citizen.


message 8: by Joi (last edited Oct 17, 2017 12:39PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joi (missjoious) | 3782 comments Great review, Anita. I've been super looking forward to reading this- but actually thinking it might be a little heavy for me given the Japan/Korea conflict. I actually got it out from the library, and didn't read it because of the assumed heaviness.

There is SO MUCH depth and complication to this subject, that frankly makes Koreans quite unhappy and unsettled to this day. I could go on forever about this, but if you're interested check out the Korean concept of 'Han'. I have a feeling this might explain character motives in this book. Even the fact that this has a Japanese game as the title about Korean people kind of irks me (even if written by a Korean author).

Also if anyone wants a kind of depressing, but educational, poignant, beautiful, and devastating read on the subject- Comfort Woman is fabulous.

Also kind of interesting about the actual game pachinko- when I was in Japan 2 years ago there would actually be elderly gamblers LINING UP as early as 9-10am for the Pachinko rooms to open... They REALLY were obsessed!


Tracy (tstan) | 1182 comments Joi wrote: "Great review, Anita. I've been super looking forward to reading this- but actually thinking it might be a little heavy for me given the Japan/Korea conflict. I actually got it out from the library,..."
Oh, Joi! Thank you so much for the explanation, and the recommendation- I just purchased Comfort Woman. I only hope I can try to understand.


Anita Pomerantz | 6276 comments Joi wrote: "Great review, Anita. I've been super looking forward to reading this- but actually thinking it might be a little heavy for me given the Japan/Korea conflict. I actually got it out from the library,..."

Thank you for sharing your perspective, Joi! Although there are sad parts to this book, I didn't feel like the problems felt terribly universal. I am sure the reader is supposed to extrapolate this one family's sorrows to those challenges experienced by Koreans in general, but somehow the way the book reads is much more personal.

What I am sorry to see is your note that Koreans today are still impacted. I never even knew about this piece of history sadly. I will definitely check out the links you have shared and add Comfort Woman to my tbr.


message 11: by Joi (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joi (missjoious) | 3782 comments Anita wrote: "somehow the way the book reads is much more personal. "

This definitely makes me more excited for this read.

Pressure's on, now that you two have added Comfort Woman to your TBRs! I haven't read it for a long time- not since I've been on GR at least, so hopefully it is as good as I remember. I own it, so maybe it's time for a reread from me too.


Anita Pomerantz | 6276 comments Joi wrote: "Anita wrote: "somehow the way the book reads is much more personal. "

This definitely makes me more excited for this read.

Pressure's on, now that you two have added Comfort Woman to your TBRs! I..."


No pressure! I want to learn, so I like recommendations that are coming from that perspective. I read the Wikipedia entry about Han. So interesting. I had never heard about that concept before. I can imagine it applying to others as well, but not sure of any other culture having a word for it.


message 13: by Michael (new)

Michael (mike999) | 569 comments Great review, Anita. I recently got a great window into the slavery of Phillipina women in [book:Lolas' House: Filipino Women Living with War|34448039 (adding to what I gathered from novels by Kiana Davenport). The Imperial Japanese relationship to Koreans was brought out in my recent read of The Narrow Road to the Deep North. The different kinds of oppression in the world all come to reflect one story, though a stage that calls forth different kinds of resilience and capacity to hope.


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