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Group Read Discussions > May 2018--Pachinko *SPOILERS*

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message 1: by Jasmine, Gatekeeper of Giveaways. (new) - added it

Jasmine | 1223 comments Mod
This is the spoilers thread for our May 2018 read, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.


Connie (connier) | 52 comments I think one of my favorite characters was Hansu. He was there for Sunja's family all the time, even if Sunja didn't want him around. I don't think that Sunja's life would have been as good if it were not for Hansu. I know he manipulated her but in a very subtle way.

I am still wondering if Goro had anything to do with the old lady's death. Could she have died due to natural causes? I certainly didn't like Kazu. I wondered if Goro did anything to him because he fired Solomon.

I loved Mozasu, and thought he was a very good son to his mom and family. He provided and seemed to be a very good boy. I did wonder if he was part of the Yakuza though.

Noa for me was a very tragic story. I cried during the confrontation between Sunja and him and then him committing suicide. I wasn't expecting that at all. I could see that Noa above all else did not want to be like his real father and did want to be a Japanese. He seemed to have so much shame for being Korean.

I really liked this book and am sure I missed some things, but I finished this up last night and these are my thoughts this morning.


Renee (elenarenee) | 476 comments I read this book last month. It was good but for some reason it didn't stick with me. I also read The Tea girl of Humming bird Lane around the same time. I am having a hard time figuring out which story goes with which book


message 4: by JoLene, Mistress of the Challenge (new) - rated it 3 stars

JoLene (trvl2mtns) | 1287 comments Mod
I read this book in Feb. I really like the history as I didn’t really know anything about the Japanese-Korean conflict. I also like the beginning story, but by the third generation I wasn’t as invested.

I did have an issue with some of the writing style. I thought some of the prose was quite beautiful, but then all of a sudden there was some crasser terms that didn’t seem to fit the style.


Connie (connier) | 52 comments JoLene wrote: "I read this book in Feb. I really like the history as I didn’t really know anything about the Japanese-Korean conflict. I also like the beginning story, but by the third generation I wasn’t as inve..."

I was not impressed with the cursing either especially in the first part of the book when Sunja cursed at Hansu. I didn't know how she would know these words unless she had heard them from a boarder. But Sunja in the beginning was a very shy girl and I felt that is something she would not say to an elder. However, when the gangsters were talking I took that in context. I don't believe cursing is necessary but that is just me. I still flinch when I hear some words spoken, but it seems that that is the norm these days. I have said to some people when they are cursing that more adjectives are available if they take the time to find them.


Rachelnyc I really enjoyed this novel. I spent some time in Japan for work and I discovered there is some lingering resentment between the Japanese and Koreans and this helped provide some insight into where that comes from.

I thought Sunja was a wonderful character and so richly depicted. I ached for all the struggles she went through in her life and thought Hoa abandoning her and then his suicide would just destroy her but somehow she continued. I loved that she at least discovered that he hadn't completely left the family behind when the cemetary caretaker told her about his visits.

I agree with Connie about Hansu. He obviously did lots of terrible things but his loyalty to Sunja and their son, and by extension the rest of her family, allowed them to live a much more comfortable life than they would have otherwise.


Renee (elenarenee) | 476 comments I agree with Jolene. I enjoyed the story. I found the writing to be insistent. Some. I times beautiful some times just ok. I also did not feel the chars were consistent. What i mean by this is that sometimes they said things in a way that didn jibe with who the were.

JoLene wrote: "I read this book in Feb. I really like the history as I didn’t really know anything about the Japanese-Korean conflict. I also like the beginning story, but by the third generation I wasn’t as inve..."

I


message 8: by Dee (new) - added it

Dee Garretson I'm with Jolene -by the third generation, my interest in the story dropped off some. I suppose thats the hard part of writing family sagas. The reader gets invested in the character they meet at the beginning of the book, but the as time goes on the focus moves away from that character.


Charlie German (charliegerman) | 2 comments I thought the competing themes of "life is suffering" and "family is why you live" were wonderfully presented throughout this novel. From the moment the coal seller's wife told the young Sunja that "a woman's life is endless work and suffering" to the scene in which Solomon is unable to convince the dying Hana that she was a good person, those beliefs pound on each other like waves against a shore. Watching that battle was not as heartbreaking nor yet as uplifting as I would have thought, and I was left instead with a feeling of sober optimism. I felt like I'd seen a realistic portrayal of how life pummels hope, but also of how life sustains hope, however meagerly.

As strange as it sounds, I felt the contrast between Noa's suicide and Sunja's burial of his photograph 11 years later was emblematic of the struggle to keep hope alive. At first, Noa's suicide seemed senseless to me, but when I saw how Japanese society punished Etsuko for her infidelity, I realized that Noa had killed himself to keep his wife and children safe from the shame that having Korean ancestry and blood ties to the Yakuza would bring. He was trying to keep hope alive that they'd be free of the shame he'd felt all his life. And when Sunja buried his photograph after finding out how faithful he'd been in his visits to the family graves, I realized that was her way of releasing a false hope, namely that her son would come back to her. It was her way of forgiving him, which to me seems like a hopeful act. Those two deeds highlighted for me the burden and the necessity of hope.

In my opinion, the title of the book is at least partially a reflection of the regard in which Koreans were held by the larger Japanese society. To the Japanese, pachinko is (evidently) a dirty business, something that people do and which is somehow shameful. And the Koreans, even those born in Japan, were held to be "gaijin" ("foreigners"), something that Hana said Japan would never integrate, (“Japan will never change. It will never ever integrate gaijin, and my darling, here you will always be a gaijin and never Japanese."). Also, the title seems to result from the fact that pachinko is a game of chance that preys on hope -- a game that takes more from most people than it gives back.

In regard to the cursing, and with respect to the opinions of others, I felt that some of it was genuinely hilarious, ("The Japanese kids would have nothing to do with him, but Mozasu no longer gave a s---"), especially when, as in that scene, it was used to contrast the rigid control these people kept themselves under. Don't get me wrong, there is zero chance I would recommend this book to some of my friends and family because of the cursing, but as somebody who was raised by a greasy spoon waitress and an Army sergeant, I thought it was an appropriate spice to add to the stew. Once again, this is just my opinion, and I can totally see why other people found it unnecessary.

Did Goro have any responsibility for the old woman's death? Was he part of the Yakuza? I too asked myself that when I read the book, and my answer was an emphatic no, simply because Goro was funny and kind to his employees, and because what could the old woman have done to foul the deal after it was signed? Why would they need to kill her? But after reading Connie's comments, and considering how nuanced this book was, now I'm not so sure. I think the most likely explanation is that the old lady did simply die of natural causes, but then again Goro made it clear that making money was the most important thing in the world (in order to pursue his, ahem, hobby), so who knows? If I had to lay a bet though, I would say that he didn't have anything to do with it.

I really enjoyed the book. Thanks to this group for sparking my interest in it!


message 10: by Janice (JG) (new) - added it

Janice (JG) | 69 comments Charlie wrote: "I thought the competing themes of "life is suffering" and "family is why you live" were wonderfully presented throughout this novel. From the moment the coal seller's wife told the young Sunja that..."

I like your thoughts here, Charlie. Sunja remained my favorite character throughout, and moving on to the other generations kept me interested for the reason that Sunja was the continuous thread throughout.

I have a new perspective of Japan / Korea relationships. I am also saddened and outraged at the consequences of the kind of ideology that allows for colonization of a people or a culture or a country. This is never a good idea.


Renee (elenarenee) | 476 comments I also was not aware of the history between Japan/Korea. It made me realize how little I know about the history of that part of the world.. I enjoyed learning.


Rahul Jalan (sinfulgenius) | 1 comments This is the first book I have read along with the group so naturally the excitement was more than usual. Like many, I had no idea about Japan Korea conflict earlier. For that, Pachinko proved to be a fascinating read. It encapsulates mindsets of 4 generations of Koreans and provides many different perspectives. So the choice of going with multiple pov narratives was excellent. The only issue (a big one) I had was character development. While Sunja, Kyunghee, Hansu etc. commanded our attention, the last generation (Solomon, Hana, Phoebe etc.) was sketched hurriedly. As a result, the last third became a drag. Couldn't understand their motivations and actions. Why did Solomon really get into Pachinko? The lines from Hana that seemed to trigger that action were hardly powerful. Was it because of his emotional nature? Then again if he was great at poker, wouldn't he be a pro at rational decision making?


message 13: by Elissa (last edited Jun 16, 2018 11:15AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Elissa Matthews | 38 comments JoLene wrote: "I thought some of the prose was quite beautiful, but then all of a sudden there was some crasser terms that didn’t seem to fit the style. "

I agree, the cursing kept jolting me out of the flow of the narrative, the style and sensation was so jarring. I started wondering if this book was originally written in Korean and then translated, but no, English isn't Lee's first language, but she is a fluent speaker/writer. I've noticed, though, that swear words don't have the same emotional impact in a foreign language as the ones we learned to snigger at in third grade. I can swear quite crassly in French, to the point where people would be really shocked, and it isn't much more than a vocabulary exercise for me.

On the other discussions points, I also thought the themes and tone were better done than the characters. The analogy of pachinko - a gamble that pretty much everyone loses in the end - to life was particularly subtle and well done. On the character side, some were better than others, but multi-generations rarely works for me.


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