The themes in Pachinko regarding women’s suffering, immigration, colonialization, and treatment of gaijin in Japan, etc. all appeal to me in a real way. The scholarship, research, and thoughtfulness of the ways Min Jin Lee’s characters live out their lives (from Hansu Koh’s philosophy on politics and survival during wars to the dying bad-girl Hana’s advice about making money as a Pachinko owner and quitting trying to be “normal” in Japan) have true value.
This book should definitely be included in AP English and freshmen liberal arts classes– not only because of the above mentioned rich themes, but also because of the kind of untold story of the way Koreans were treated by Japan both as colonialized people and then as zainichi in Japan. It’s a painfully clear mirror USAians should see reflections of our own colonial aspirations and treatment of a series of ethnic minorities in our own country (as one character mentions, Japanese-Americans were sent to concentration camps during World War II but not German-Americans).
And yet….the worst ravages of grief for sons dying, men betraying, mothers working themselves to skin and bones, colleagues being casually raciest….are muted by the omniscient narrator and switching from POV to POV as well as the overall dry and distanced tone.
And while this makes much of the tragedy portrayed bearable…it also makes it too distant to impact. When reading history I want to feel and inhabit the deep emotions of the people portrayed, and this particular tone, which struck me almost as translated text from Japanese to English does sometimes, prevented me from that depth of feeling.
That said, it’s an important book because of the topics and breadth of history it includes– a history all too often unacknowledged by historians chronicling World War II or considering the ethnic makeup of modern Japan and its faux-homogeneity.