eBook - 2017
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Jun 09, 2019

"You want to see a very bad man? Make an ordinary man successful beyond his imagination. Let's see how good he is when he can do whatever he wants."
Sprawling and deeply felt family saga set in Korea and Japan. It covers several generations and so has a bit of the feel of a Victorian novel, although there's plenty of sex. Lee wrestles with issues of identity, home, and family in ways that are usually insightful and compelling. It runs a little long (close to 500 pages), but it is ambitious and covers a lot of ground.

Apr 28, 2019

The first copy of this book that I received from the library was sprinkled with what I think were plucked eyebrow hairs. Disgusting, but the book was seriously engaging, so I ignored them and read on. About halfway through, though, there was a booger. That was too much for me, so I returned that copy and had to wait in line again for another one. Now the new one has arrived and on the very first page there is something that looks suspiciously like another booger. Honestly, what is going on with you KCLS patrons? This is far from the first time I have come across human detritus in KCLS library books, including hairs from all parts of the body and food crumbs. You know that in all my years in reading library books in other parts of the country and abroad I have never run across any of this disgusting stuff? What is it, are you people just inured to it?

Apr 13, 2019

Arlene or Joanne rec'd

Apr 10, 2019

loved this book and everyone in my book club was very glad to have read it
great generational story, great insights
so much can be related to colonized peoples all over the world
as the author says - how to live when the people where you live wish you were dead

Apr 06, 2019

A wonderful saga of four generations of Korean and Japanese people and history. Well written, with a feeling of acceptance of each life as it unfolds that echoes some eastern philosophies. Great characters and historic events from a new point of view - the point of view of Koreans who suffered under Japanese colonization pre and during WWII and then the Korean War which has never ended. Pachinko is a game played on a machine that is something like a pin ball machine standing up vertically. It is played with passion in Japan per the author and internet investigation. There is a limited betting component and Pachinko shops were one of few businesses open to Koreans living in Japan during the early and mid 1900s.

Mar 30, 2019


Chapel_Hill_MarthaW Feb 28, 2019

This almost reminded me of a Victorian novel, in the sense of its ambitious scope (the better part of the 20th century) and its focus on a wide cast of characters (four generations of the same family). The characters are the real joy of this book -- they are developed so thoughtfully and with such nuance that they feel like real people you know, though the leaps forward in time (often by several years) to different points in their lives can occasionally feel frustrating, since you feel like you're missing out on moments with people you've come to care for. The central theme of this novel is that life, like the titular game, is full of wins and losses -- more of the latter than the former, but you continue on hoping to be one of the lucky ones. This makes for a read that is occasionally depressing -- the fate of one character in particular was a bit of a gut punch -- but completely engrossing.

Feb 08, 2019

This was a wonderful story, told over generations. I highly recommend it.

Feb 02, 2019

Fascinating story of Koreans trying to live and succeed in Japan, where they are never fully accepted and face rampant discrimination. The theme of assimilating in a land where all anyone see is your 'otherness,' permeates this novel. And different characters try different approaches to cope in their new land, with some trying to be the perfect immigrant, others throwing themselves into fulfilling the worst stereotypes assigned to them. It's a very timely book for any person of color living in America these days.

Jan 28, 2019

A perfect read for anyone who likes historical fiction, multi-generational family sagas or cultural stories with exotic settings.

Dec 30, 2018


Dec 25, 2018

Ultimately disappointing. The book has no real ending, it's as if the author decided she no longer had interest in the story. There are too many coincidences, the characters are two-dimensional and by the story's end, there are too many characters, the story becomes disjointed and I'm at a loss to understand why the author wrote this book - what message was she trying to convey other than Koreans were treated badly by the Japanese but it all worked out in the end ??

Nov 30, 2018

2 1/2 stars. At the beginning I was intrigued by the main character and her mother. Then the book veered off into to-good-to-be-true coincidences and cardboard characters. Undoubtedly the Korean people who spent WW2 in Japan suffered greatly but the writing was too wooden to make the reader truly appreciate this. After oh-so-many coincidences, the characters got quite boring and I no longer cared how it ended - I started skipping paragraphs, then pages, then just put it aside about 65 pages from the end. I had expected a lot more from this book and author, given the good reviews.

Nov 29, 2018

I cannot believe how disappointed I was by this book!!! Having lived in Southeast Asia and traveled throughout the region, I normally seek out and respect Asian authors. In addition the story of this family covers two of the most significant events of the 20th century in Japan and Korea. The story begins in Korea with a girl in trouble - classic beginning of hundreds of novels. A kind Christian man marries the girl and they end up moving to Japan. It is common knowledge that the Japanese culture of the 20th century treated Koreans with less than respect. The family ekes out a living, gradually becoming more successful. The husband is thrown in prison for not properly respecting Japanese tradition. The family is living in Japan during World War II. Does this not deserve some observations other than that the Japanese were put in detention camps in the U.S. and yes by the way an uncle moves to Nagasaki. He escapes the bomb, but is burned. World War II gets a couple of pages. What about the opportunity to discuss the comfort women of Korea who were kidnapped by the Japanese to be sexual slaves to the military. They are still trying to get justice. I guess they were not important compared to pachinko. Then we have the Korean War which is barely mentioned. What is mentioned is a lot of sex and abortions and how to set the pachinko games so that there are not many winners. There is even voyeurism because a woman is not getting enough sex at home. Never mind that the family is being funded by a member of the Yakuza Japanese crime syndicate. Really is this what is important for readers to know about Korean culture and history? The book begins with the sentence: History has failed us, but no matter. Actually the author has failed history and its profound effect upon Koreans in the 20th century. Kristi & Abby Tabby

Sep 22, 2018

Pachinko is an excellent read, it has such humility, honesty, and an unfiltered look at the non-romantic version of poverty and immigration. It touches on suicide, illness, and immense family and societal pressure especially in a home that is only made by family and not by nationality. Great read, but I especially recommend this for all children of immigrants, it has a lot of truth and lots of lessons to learn.

Sep 11, 2018

A saga, delivered in a less consistent narrative style, felt heavier than it's substantiated. Collage of ordinary characters with extraordinary characteristics float by in the river of history, their fate is watched over by God and as if played by Pachinko.
It's a shame that I only learned about my island kins in such a pronounced way until now.
I may not be more than impressed by the major female figures - the paragon of traditional values, but Noa is the core, and through him I feel author's near finesse.
"Sunja's tryst with Hansu" is beautifully rendered, while "Sex in the park", with its elaboration to appeal to contemporary readers (perhaps?), is such a smear to mess up the book.
Isak's short life has the most tear-jerking ending, other deaths (major and minor) are lightly touched without reduced tragic effect - a master stroke.

Aug 10, 2018

The story begins in the early 20th century in South Korea with a young man who is crippled by a club foot and has a cleft palate. He wins a wife and they are able to have one daughter (Sunjan). That daughter is his treasure and he teaches her about unconditional love. That love is passed on through the generations despite hardship and tragedy. The story ends in 1989, but we can see that the love and faith of Sunjan endures.

DCLadults Aug 09, 2018

Historical Fiction at it's best! Beautiful writing, fully developed characters and interesting places. A great book group selection! A National Book Award Finalist. A TV series is in development at Apple.

ArapahoeKati Aug 01, 2018

Lush, evocative, beautiful. The kind of book you want to savor. I spent a month reading this because I didn't want it to end. A read-alike for "Memoirs of a Geisha" or if you love family sagas with great attention to historical detail.

Jul 25, 2018

I know very little about Korean history and I think that made this book an educational, as well as an entertaining read. Of course I’m aware that women have been treated very badly in most countries and throughout most time periods, but every time I read another historical fiction novel it really comes to life for me. This one is beautifully written and even though it’s a long book the story flowed quickly. It’s the story of a Korean family who is moved to Japan due to circumstances beyond their control. I think this is one of the references to the game of Pachinko, which is a game of luck, but we learn in the book that sometimes the owners of Pachinko parlors rig the game. The story immersed me in the characters so much that I felt like the family could have been real! I enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more by this author.

somanybooksHPL Jul 05, 2018

A long book, that is a quick read as it is seamlessly written. A story that could be about almost any immigrant experience. Historical, current, love, drama, mystery all wrapped into one.

May 27, 2018

This sweeping character drama is set in Korea and Japan between 1910 and 1990. During this time, Japan had colonized Korea and the Koreans living in Japan were often treated as lower class humans. The suffering, perseverance, and ultimate success of stoic Korean women is a central theme in this book. Richly detailed characterization dramatically brings this fascinating chapter of East Asian history to life.

May 25, 2018

2017 National Book Award

lindab1111 May 03, 2018

It felt like I have read this book before. Different country, different names but the same basic story of families being forced to flee villages, women's plight of trying to find love with a man who has money, and so on. Perhaps I'm thinking of Lisa See or Amy Tan. Anyway, I stayed with it till the end.

May 02, 2018

I really enjoyed this book. It’s long, and not for nothing does Lee cite Dickens in her epigram to Part 1 of the book (“Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit answered to, in strongest conjuration”). The book evoked Dickens in its sweep and length, and I found it entirely engrossing, luxuriating in a whole Easter Sunday to sit and finish it in one big gulp.

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