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Pachinko
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message 1: by Amy (new)

Amy (asawatzky) | 1687 comments so let's talk about it....


message 2: by Holly (new)

Holly (moonshiner) I feel like this book has been shoved in my face all year! I'm a little scared of it based on how many reviews say the prose is bland. Tell me how good/mediocre/bad this novel actually is, TOB-ers.


message 3: by Ace (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ace (aceonroam) It's bland. Formulaic.


Julie (julnol) | 113 comments It would be a good match up against Manhattan Beach :
Bland V Banal (and both formulaic as Ace says!)


Gaby | 32 comments I also thought it was highly overrated. Gave it 3 stars and never recommended it to anyone. I did not hate it but was perplexed by how much attention it got. I would say read it if you have time and if you have completed everything else on the list you know for sure you want to read.


message 6: by Trudie (new) - added it

Trudie (trudieb) | 27 comments Ah I finally feel somewhat less guilty in my abandonment of this one then.


Janet (justjanet) | 641 comments I enjoyed it but it's a formulaic family saga. If you're going to read it, I suggest the audio....here's a link to my review....https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


Rosie Morley (rosiemorley) | 40 comments Ugh. I so wanted to like this book, but I feel like I had a really strange reaction to it. I liked the idea of it and some of the plot, but couldn’t stand the writing style. It was awful. I didn’t want to stop reading, though—I felt a compulsion to keep going—and I don’t regret reading it.


Ezzy | 30 comments Pachinko summary:
Good people are very good! Bad people are very bad! Racism causes people to treat others unfairly! Life is very hard! If you forget that life is hard I will give you many more examples of how unfair and hard it is!

There, I read it so you don't have to.


message 10: by Holly (last edited Jan 04, 2018 08:47AM) (new)

Holly (moonshiner) Ezzy wrote: "Pachinko summary:
Good people are very good! Bad people are very bad! Racism causes people to treat others unfairly! Life is very hard! If you forget that life is hard I will give you many more exa..."


Ha! The good thing is that this book has an extremely long hold list that I won't possibly reach in time for the TOB, so I will have an excuse not to read it.


message 11: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 08, 2018 09:03AM) (new)

Every comment thus far in the thread is negative. Thank you all for confirming my decision to skip this one.


Dianah (fig2) | 255 comments I really liked this one, but it wasn't a 5-star read for me. Yes, the prose is somewhat plodding, but I did end up caring about the characters and definitely wanted to find out what happened to them. There was one moment that blindsided me, and it had a big emotional effect on me.


message 13: by Jan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jan (janrowell) | 1081 comments Tina wrote: "Every comment thus far in the thread is negative. Thank you all for confirming my decision to skip this one."

Maybe not so fast, you guys.In addition to Dianah's warmer response, Roxane Gay gave it 5 stars on Goodreads and said it was one of her favorite books of the year. I also see a number of 4- and 5-star reviews among my GR connections, many of whom are TOB people. I'm looking forward to starting it in another week or two.


message 14: by Amy (new)

Amy (asawatzky) | 1687 comments Jan wrote: "Tina wrote: "Every comment thus far in the thread is negative. Thank you all for confirming my decision to skip this one."

Maybe not so fast, you guys.In addition to Dianah's warmer response, Roxa..."


yeah, I'm still going to try this one. I have loved some simplistic writing .... Kent Haruf and Pearl S. Buck come to mind where the writing lacks flourish but works well as a result.


message 15: by jo (new)

jo | 429 comments Julie wrote: "It would be a good match up against Manhattan Beach :
Bland V Banal (and both formulaic as Ace says!)"


hahahahha.


Janet (justjanet) | 641 comments My review wasn't negative....I gave it 4 stars....I just said it was formulaic. Conventional is not always bad.


message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

My earlier comment seems to have inspired people to stick up for this book's honor. The description does not appeal to me, nor does the length. I've been disappointed by too many long books, so I need to be confident that it will be worth my time. If it does well in the tournament, I might be inclined to give it a try.


Heather (hlynhart) | 308 comments I rated it 5 stars, although I was probably being overly generous. But, it held my interest throughout, taught me a lot about a culture and history I knew very little about previously, and delivered a few surprises I didn't see coming.


message 19: by Ezzy (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ezzy | 30 comments Amy wrote: "yeah, I'm still going to try this one. I have loved some simplistic writing .... Kent Haruf and Pearl S. Buck come to mind where the writing lacks flourish but works well as a result. "

I don't think the problem is that the writing is simplistic, I think it's the lack of depth of the characters that make it feel so dull. The setting/premise is great but I'd rather read well-written nonfiction about it and bypass the one-dimensionality completely.


David | 10 comments I also have to come clean and let folks know I really enjoyed this one. The book jacket promise of "a powerful meditation on what immigrants sacrifice to achieve a home in the world" seemed legitimate. My review was definitely positive and I gave 5 stars, which is not something I do often. But this back-and-forth is what I love most about groups this passionate and smart!


Julie (julnol) | 113 comments Like the game Pachinko, I found this a rather manipulative and mechanical read.

There was plenty of colour at the beginning but it started to fade in the second part of the book. A good edit would have worked wonders (eg a section where they are watching a tv program; a gloss over many years to leap to x years later; inclusion of characters or characterisations that seemed to just tick-a-contemporary-box; exposition rather than action). It would have been a 3 to 4 star read if it had kept its momentum or not become a muddled message mess.


message 22: by Anne (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anne | 4 comments I admit that as a lover of family dramas and someone who married into a Korean family, I may have been predisposed to like this book, but I still have recommended it to others. It was definitely not the most challenging book I’ve read this year, but I didn’t find it boring. I like seeing what happens to people as history happens, as lives are lived. This book definitely does that, and gave me a little insight into Korea/Japan relations.

Then again, I also liked Manhattan Beach...


message 23: by Gaby (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gaby | 32 comments I’m going to add a caveat to my previous post in light of the news about North and South Korea re-opening their relationship because this book does give you the historical perspective of the Korean War and the aftermath of the war. It was not so cut and dry as it may seem to us and many Koreans were conflicted because of family ties and close relationships in the North. All my previous knowledge of North Korea has come from The Orphan Masters Son, which is still my favorite book of this century. Pachinko also gives some historical perspective. But yes in a very formulaic wooden way.


Lagullande | 22 comments Tina wrote: "...nor does the length. I've been disappointed by too many long books, so I need to be confident that it will be worth my time...."

It may be on the long side, but it is a quick read.


Katie | 127 comments Wow so many folks didn't love this one eh? I love (really really LOVE) family generational sagas. I knew very little of the Korean/Japanese history so I loved that too. It was long but was a fast read. I cared about the characters, I remained invested in their lives throughout the book. I'm not sure it's a TOB winner but I could see it moving past round 1, depending on pairings :)


message 26: by Eric (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eric | 90 comments I loved it, but it's a very old-fashioned sort of book. Like Gone With the Wind, or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or Marjorie Morningstar. Or even Dickens. There's something to be said for the virtues of old-school storytelling.

It wasn't very artful on the surface, but I was impressed with how the tone shifted imperceptibly from that of a historical novel to that of a contemporary novel as the book went on. Good storytelling can sometimes be a concealed art.

I found it immersive and I felt I learned a lot about a time, place, and culture I knew very little about.


message 27: by Gail (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gail | 18 comments Eric wrote: "I loved it, but it's a very old-fashioned sort of book. Like Gone With the Wind, or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or Marjorie Morningstar. Or even Dickens. There's something to be said for the virtues ..."
I agree. My knowledge of this subject was limited to the Comfort Women and the recent apology by Japan.
I am always seeking a book that will completely transport me to a time and place. This book did it for me.


Kristin-Leigh (okrysmastree) | 58 comments I'm really enjoying this one so far - it's straightforward historical fiction but the characters are interesting and I'm learning new things about a time/place I didn't know a ton about going in, which is really the best case scenario with straightforward historical fiction, I think. I'm listening to the audio book and it's a lovely arrangement, really enhancing the experience of the story. I find myself really looking forward to my walk to work and getting to listen a bit further.


message 29: by Megan (new) - added it

Megan (gentlyread) | 67 comments Just finished this, and I really liked this! But I enjoy long family sagas with idiosyncratic dives into characters and ideas and history. The prose was very matter-of-fact, but that worked for me, for this story. It didn't get in the way; likewise, the omniscient narration was more see-through than performative (if that's the right word).

In general, I was invested in the bigger picture (a lot of the thematic exploration about cultural and national identity) than the smaller character work, and I found the explanation why in the interview with the author that was included at the end of the book. Min Jin Lee wrote, "It is possible that characters need to die for the author to make her moral point, for the author himself to regenerate by letting go of an ideal identity, or for the world to recognize the necessity of certain ideas and ideals to die. Certain characters die in Pachinko, and to me, their deaths were both natural to the plot and necessary symbolically." I agree with her that even the deaths that surprised me seemed "painfully inevitable," but reading that gave me a light-bulb moment about why I never felt 100% into the characters. I didn't really see the characters as one-dimensional, per se, but I did feel that their symbolic or argumentative purposes were often heavily weighted.

But I still thought it was a really engaging book. Usually when I'm reading books this long, I tend to break up my reading by also reading shorter, zippier books alongside it, but no. I didn't cheat on Pachinko at all. These past few days, it was all I wanted to read.


message 30: by Drew (new) - rated it 4 stars

Drew (drewlynn) | 421 comments I haven't been this immersed in a book in a long time. I finished this yesterday but I'm not ready to leave the characters.

I hadn't realized how much I missed these long, straightforward family sagas! It's been a long time since I've read one.


Melanie Greene (dakimel) | 236 comments Megan wrote: "Just finished this, and I really liked this! But I enjoy long family sagas with idiosyncratic dives into characters and ideas and history. The prose was very matter-of-fact, but that worked for me,..."

Megan, I think your take on this is the most parallel to my take of all our discussion here.


Gwendolyn | 164 comments I just finished this one, and I’m disappointed. On the positive side, I learned a lot about a place/time I haven’t been exposed to before, and Lee’s research is evident. The reading experience did transport me into the world of the novel, and that’s a huge positive. On the negative side, the prose is not good, just not special in any way. The best adjectives I saw in other comments are “wooden,” “plodding,” and “mechanical.” Exactly. In addition, I thought the characters were superficially realized and simplistic in general (with a couple minor exceptions). With better writing and characterization, this would be a 5-star read, but I gave it 3 stars.

I love a well-told traditional narrative and an epic family saga. I loved Manhattan Beach—gorgeous writing, complex characters, and a compelling story. But Pachinko just didn’t hit the mark at all for me (with all due respect to those of you who loved it, and you are many).

I love hearing all the debate on this one. Personally, I would love to see a Manhattan Beach-Pachinko match up in the TOB.


message 33: by Daniel (last edited Jan 25, 2018 06:27AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Daniel Sevitt | 81 comments Just finished this and in the last 200 pages I went from liking it to being super irritated by it. The author just gave up on her characters and started writing about new ones. She just got bored of the story she started telling and told another one with less fleshed-out characters.

The more I think about it, the angrier this half-written book that’s about 300 pages too long is making me. Need time to process.


Kelly | 28 comments I thought the first part was pretty solid, but after WWII, it really went downhill for me. I wouldn't have minded a more fleshed-out story that just dealt with that era. By the time the one guy killed himself (I forget his name), I really did not care at all, and the impact was totally missing.

I've noticed that with a lot of multi-generational historical sagas - the stories that kick it off are solidly plotted and the characters well-rounded, but each generation after feels more forced to fit them into the events of their time, and become plot devices rather than real people.


Gwendolyn | 164 comments Kelly, Good point about multi-generational stories losing steam over time. I’ve never thought about it that way, but I think it’s true. In this case it certainly was (in my opinion).


Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 575 comments I'm a four star fan of this book, for all the pro and cn reasons that have already been raised here. But I think it would have made a really terrific graphic novel. Imagine the visuals! And the plain-spoken text could be compressed to match.


Rosie Morley (rosiemorley) | 40 comments Nadine wrote: "I think it would have made a really terrific graphic novel."

Omg. So on board with this! That would have been amazing.


Alison Hardtmann (ridgewaygirl) | 456 comments I read this book back when it was first published and I had the same reaction as many of you -- interesting because it illuminates a time an place I knew nothing about, otherwise an utterly conventional generational saga which was easy to read, but unremarkable.

And a year later it's still sticking in my mind and I ended up giving it as a Christmas present to my MIL, who loves stories about immigrants of one kind or another, being one herself.

I'm not sure what place traditionally structured and written novels have in the ToB. I guess I'm glad they're included?


message 39: by Jan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jan (janrowell) | 1081 comments I'm about a third of the way through this and am enjoying the heck out of it. I know the writing is nothing fancy, but Lee has totally pulled me in. I'm trying to set the book aside so I can read Exit West for my IRL book group (and also for TOB), and while I'm loving EW, I'm finding myself unable to leave Pachinko alone...it's the book I'm sneaking off to read when I can carve a few minutes out of my day, because I feel fully engaged with the characters and want situations. And as others have said, I'm enjoying immersing myself in a time, place and perspective I know little about.

@Alison, traditionally structured and written novels definitely have their role to play in the TOB. Angela Fluornoy's The Turner House in 2016 comes to mind, and there were several from last year that might qualify--Sport of Kings, The Mothers, We Love You Charlie Freeman...?


Ruthiella | 354 comments Jan wrote: "I@Alison, traditionally structured and written novels definitely have their role to play in the TOB. Angela Fluornoy's The Turner House in 2016 comes to mind, and there were several from last year that might qualify--Sport of Kings, The Mothers, We Love You Charlie Freeman...?"

That is one of the things I like about the TOB short/long lists: the juxtaposition of "traditional" and "avant garde", popular and obscure, and so on. I enjoyed Pachinko as an interesting historical novel. But historical fiction is also kind of my kryptonite.


Alison Hardtmann (ridgewaygirl) | 456 comments Has a traditionally structured novel ever won?

I hear what you're saying, but novels like The Mothers and The Turner House were not exactly traditionally structured. They had a strong narrative flow, but they weren't without innovation.

But that whole argument stands on defining what a traditionally structured novel is, but even with the most restrictive definition it's clear that they do appear on each longlist, and often make it into tournament play. They have yet to win the Rooster, but maybe this year will prove me wrong. I hope that if that happens, it's for Pachinko and not Manhattan Beach, but that's pure personal preference.


message 42: by Jan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jan (janrowell) | 1081 comments I just finished this after reading Exit West last week. I loved both books, and enjoyed the common theme of dislocation -- how it feels when no place is "home." Both books are smooth and simple on the surface, but with more going on underneath than meets the eye...although I'm not an articulate enough reader to be able to break it down if any of you Pachinko Sucks people challenge me on it, haha!


Ellen H | 764 comments This was one of those books I'd been resolutely resisting ever since it was published. Nothing in its description appealed to me, and so as a ToB completist, I was not exactly dreading it, but I certainly wasn't looking forward to it.

But I have to say -- I was drawn in from page 1, and that's not a common thing for me. From the story of Hoonie, through the image of Sunja visiting her husband's grave and discovering from the manager there that Noa had visited for years...it had me. I gave it 5 stars, but really it's 4.5; I can't say I LOVED it, exactly, nor that I thought it was a GREAT book, but I thought it was a very, very good book and I liked it a lot. A lot a lot.

I'm interested that so many people found the writing "wooden" or "mechanical". See, now, I saw it as deliberately echoing writing in translation. For the first maybe quarter of the book, I kept going back to the front to see if it actually was translated from either the Japanese or the Korean. To me, there was that slight awkwardness that made me internally re-write the sentence in my mind, or imagine whatever untranslatable figure of speech from the "original" was being aimed at. And I found this fascinating and ultimately very effective, as if it were reflecting the immigrant/second language experience. "Dislocation" is a good word to describe that, Jan.

I was charmed by it. Can it beat Lincoln in the Bardo? I don't think so -- I think Lincoln in the Bardo is this year's Underground Railroad, a book so different and innovative, yet still (here's that word) accessible, that it is on a different plane. JMHO. But I'd be happy with a Lincoln in the Bardo/Pachinko final.


Gwendolyn | 164 comments Ellen H, interesting comments about the writing. I see what you mean about this sounding like an awkward translation. If I knew for sure that that was the author’s intention, I might give her more credit for it, though it wouldn’t improve my view of the book, I don’t think. I would still rather read a well-written book than an awkwardly written one, especially over 400+ pages. But interesting thought that the style is intentional...


message 45: by Eric (last edited Feb 18, 2018 03:30PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eric | 90 comments Last night I listened to Min Jin Lee being interviewed by the Book Cougars. She said she wanted to write a 19th century novel, but with the direct style and clarity of a 20th century American novel. Judged by that standard, I think she succeeded.


message 46: by Jan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jan (janrowell) | 1081 comments The writing in Pachinko felt delicate to me, "Eastern" somehow, in the way that a tea ceremony is delicate and precise. The discussion we're having here reminds me of some of the TOB commentary about Roxane Gay's writing in An Untamed State, where some people saw Gay's style choices as a lack of craft. Viet Thanh Nguyen, who won the Pulitzer Prize with The Sympathizer, wrote a great piece in the NYT last year about Western assumptions of what constitutes good writing being part of the power asserting itself. I need to reread it, but I'm thinking it's quite relevant here.
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/26/bo...


message 47: by Jan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jan (janrowell) | 1081 comments Eric wrote: "Last night I listen to Min Jin Lee being interviewed by the Book Cougars. She said she wanted to write a 19th century novel, but with the direct style and clarity of a 20th century American novel. ..."

Thanks, Eric! I agree. :-)


Janet (justjanet) | 641 comments She's going to be at the Tucson Book Festival this March...I hope I get to meet her.


Bryn (Plus Others) (brynplusplus) | 94 comments I just finished this one and I am both frustrated & disappointed -- it sounded so much like something I would love! I enjoy family sagas (although most of those I have read are the highly coloured kind by Susan Howatch or Cynthia Harrod-Eagles) and I enjoy a wide variety of Japanese media and I have just begun to learn more about South Korea, so I really expected this to be delightful. It just did not work for me, though; very flat prose, a monotonous narrative tone (which Lee described in an interview as her attempt to be fair to all of the characters) that kept me from getting close to the characters, and a lack of the kind of specificity and subjectivity that is what I read for. (I think it says something that two of my favourite books this ToB have been Stephen Florida and The Idiot, both of which are deep explorations of one character's subjectivity.)

I was also surprised that after WW2 the novel felt ungrounded in time -- Japan changed enormously between the 1950s and the late 1980s, but those changes didn't seem to filter in to the lives of the characters. I really don't love the kind of historical fiction where lots of famous people are getting cameos, but as a reader I expected the characters to be connected to their time, to have some opinion about the 1964 summer Olympics (the first ones ever held in Asia) or the student protests of the late 1960s or the political scandals of the 1970s. I felt the same way about the places; Osaka and Yokohama are different cities in different regions of Japan, but I didn't feel those differences in the novel, which made it feel all much less real to me. I was kept turning the pages by my desire to find out what happened next, but that's not actually what I want out of a book -- if I'm just curious if so-and-so lives/dies/recovers/has a baby/etc then I can just read a detailed plot summary and be done with it.

At the end of my ebook there was an interview with the author -- that's where I got that information about her wanting her omniscient narrator to be 'fair' -- and I found it far more interesting than this novel; she's a really interesting person who did a ton of work to produce this book. I think I will go back and try her first novel and see if I like it more.


Melanie Greene (dakimel) | 236 comments Bryn (Plus Others) wrote: "I think I will go back and try her first novel and see if I like it more. "

I found Free Food for Millionaires more engaging on a character level, and far more grounded in Manhattan/environs than this was - especially, as you point out, in the Japan pages.

Excellent point that the characters seem removed from the realities of their changing, rapidly modernizing world, too.


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