Tag Archives: Korea

Pachinko: What Kale is to Reading

So remember when kale was like a Big Deal and it was in your cereal and your smoothies and your muffins and you were like ‘stop talking about kale!  I don’t like it!’ (Or if you’re my mum, you were like ‘Kale?! I don’t even eat lettuce!’)? That’s how I felt about Pachinko. I was like, stop recommending this book to me, world. I get that it’s ‘good’ and ‘great’ and ‘life changing’ but it just looks dull and maybe over-hyped and probably there’s no way it can be anything other than a little chewy.

This is where the analogy falls apart. Because kale really is over-hyped and  (as M. would observe) doesn’t need to be in anything because it’s really not that good. Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, on the other hand, is worth every single page of its  400+ brilliance (when did  page count start to matter? In a meeting recently debating how many pages young people are willing/able to read (and our book club has the same talk) and I wanted to have a stomp and yell, because a novel should be exactly as long as it needs to be, and if it’s too long it’s too long because it didn’t need to be that long. I probably felt differently reading Infinite Jest but I DIGRESS).

Right, so Pachinko has the feel of a book that you’re going to read  because it’s ‘important’ and ‘recommended’ (aka: full of brain vitamins) but then… it’s just… great. Like as a story you want to read and not put down. While also – and incidentally! that part is important! –  being  good for your literary life because it’s so well crafted. And in my case good  for my political/historical life because I didn’t know *anything* about the history of  Koreans in  Japan, which… is what the book is about.

Reluctant to tell you the broad strokes of the plot because  you’re likely to be like… Kale. Boring. And it’s not! Anyway, it’s about a few generations of this Korean family living in/being Japanese, but not being Japanese because of bananas rules about Koreans-in-Japan and citizenship. Opening just before WWII we follow threads of gender, class, citizenship and nationality, along  with all sorts of ideas of identity/belonging/passing and family. All layered around romance. Oh and  religion! It really does have it all (haven’t you heard? Kale also makes your farts smell good).

So yeah. Be a better person and read  Pachinko. And I promise this won’t be like interval training or CBD or coconut water [insert other ridiculous fad]. This one be the real deal.

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Filed under Fiction, New York Times Notable, Prize Winner