Book Club Reflection: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

6 Feb

My book club met recently to talk about a book I loved, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Unfortunately, we had some members who seemed more interested in talking to each other than they were in talking about the book. Those of us who pushed on were able to have some semblance of a discussion, but it was much shorter so this will be a smaller post.

One member brought some Korean wedding ducks a friend of hers had given as a gift. The friend was living in Korea and sent these wooden ducks to our member. Ducks mate for life so the wish was for our member’s marriage to be the same. It was fun to see a bit of the book’s culture join us for the meeting.

A few members commented on the speech in the back of our books that Caroline Kennedy gave. She calls the book a ‘fun summer read’ and many felt that was off base. We think of summer reads as light and short novels without much depth. This book was the complete opposite, so we wondered if the remark was supposed to be read sarcastically.

Many of us didn’t realize it was so hard to be Korean in Japan. Because it’s an island, Japan has historically had a very closed culture and it was not very welcoming to foreigners who came for any reason.

I was surprised how many people showed up to the meeting with a hand-written family tree! It was an easy way to keep track of the names. (I was one of two without one.) Some people felt this was a flaw in the book and that there were some characters who were unnecessary and that the book could have been shortened a bit by removing them.

Many were shocked at the prevalence of sex in the book. Hana was a clear example of this, but Noa’s Japanese girlfriend was highly sexualized as well. We were most surprised by the quick scene in the park when Goro’s wife (I may have this wrong) ran into a prostitute. We weren’t expecting the prevalence of sex, though we agreed nothing was graphic. It was very noticeable in a culture that was otherwise so formal.

This book tells us over and over that a woman’s lot is to suffer. Honestly, we didn’t feel that things had changed too much from the time this book was set until now. Two or three generations ago in the US, women had the same expectations out of life as Sunja did on a small island in Korea. The suffering of a woman seems to be almost universal.

None of us had heard of Pachinko before and we imagined it like upside-down Plinko. In the end, every man’s job revolved around it and it was very central to their stories. It is a game of chance and it’s always rigged just a bit. But the player remains hopeful that they can win, even knowing that they probably won’t. We believed it was a good metaphor for life.

Noa was a great character and very dynamic throughout the book. One thing that seemed inconsistent with him was that he was so smart, but he couldn’t figure out that Hansu was his father. It seems if someone’s paying for your school and living expenses, you might expect they’re more than a friend of your mother. It was understandably hard for him when he did figure this out and his subsequent death was tragic. We were bothered by how little attention seemed to be paid to Noa’s death. It was so sudden and tragic but we’re spared the suffering it caused and the book moves on.

Hansu makes many appearances in the book to come to Sunja’s rescue. We never get a solid answer on how he came to be married to a rich Japanese woman besides his good looks. We felt there might have been something more buried there. We did see that he had a bad side. Even though he risked a lot to help Sunja, we still see him hitting a prostitute and being controlling at other times. He’s a very unpredictable character and was someone we enjoyed seeing come up periodically.

Most of us adored this book and I’m so glad I was able to hear Lee speak about it. I hope our next book is as engaging! Until next time, write on.

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4 Responses to “Book Club Reflection: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee”

  1. Rae Reads February 7, 2020 at 2:40 PM #

    II haven’t read this yet, but after reading your review, I’m certainly going to.

    Like

    • Sam February 7, 2020 at 5:46 PM #

      I hope you like it as much as I did! This story really spoke to me. Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sharon Taylor February 8, 2020 at 10:25 AM #

    BTW it was on President Obama’s reading list for 2019. His list on Instagram was impressive!

    Like

    • Sam February 8, 2020 at 2:15 PM #

      He usually has a great list. Thanks for reminding me. Happy reading!

      Like

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