Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee



Two and a half stars, read in March 2018.

I found this book very stressful.

Given how long and sprawling it is, following so many characters throughout four generations, it often seemed strange how long we lingered on specific, not particularly meaningful conversations before jumping through time and space to continue the story. It just sort of meanders, loose threads not tied up, and with characters turning on their family members for no reason there is a distressing amount of unnecessary suffering alongside the very real suffering of war (I was so angry with Noa, twice).

I find few things as upsetting as the way humans have spent our existence, in most cultures as far as I can tell, making life as horrible as possible for as many people as possible based on completely arbitrary rules that we all just accept because of What People Will Say. It’s not that I don’t understand how difficult it is to go against societal conventions, and obviously in this case there were even more specific, real dangers for those who did; but there’s a difference between behaving conventionally because you know you have to, and buying into it. The most frustrating thing to me is when people don’t see how wrong society is.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Jan Hicks says:

    Did you read this in audio or in print? I hear what you’re saying about the meanness of life, in all senses of the word, and it being a frustration to read about it. For me, though, that was a compelling part of the reading experience. I loved the book and got a lot from it in terms of understanding better Osaka’s rhythms and peculiarities, why it’s such a different place to other Japanese cities. It was one of my favourite reads last year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Miri says:

      I listened to it on audio, which probably made it more frustrating for me, but it was the only format I could get hold of (this book has been on hold for a long time in all the libraries I frequent).

      Tell me more about Osaka, please! I don’t know enough about Japan on the ground to have gotten the understanding you did about the different dynamics.


      1. Jan Hicks says:

        Osaka is a messy city, and its inhabitants are loud, brash, funny, rude – all of the things Westerners don’t perceive Japanese people as being. It’s a wealthy city, too. It used to be a huge industrial city, with lots of manufacturing and, of course, the port. It’s multicultural in a way that other Japanese cities aren’t, in the sense that New York is multicultural, or Manchester. There’s something about the fact that it’s not the capital but it’s an important city that gives it a certain swagger. Reading Pachinko made me realise how similar Osaka is to Manchester, actually. Anyone’s welcome but they can’t count on being made welcome – people have to have something about them to be accepted.

        I struggle with Osaka because I don’t go to Japan to visit Manchester! I want Kyoto and Tokyo and the places in between. I don’t want an echo of the place where I live.

        Liked by 1 person

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