PACHINKO

Min Jin Lee

“There could only be a few winners, and a lot of losers. And yet we played on, because we had hope that we might be the lucky ones.”

History is seldom kind. In Min Jin Lee’s bestselling, magisterial epic, four generations of a poor, proud immigrant family fight to control their destinies, exiled from a homeland they never knew.

In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant—and that her lover is married—she refuses to be bought.

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“There could only be a few winners, and a lot of losers. And yet we played on, because we had hope that we might be the lucky ones.”

History is seldom kind. In Min Jin Lee’s bestselling, magisterial epic, four generations of a poor, proud immigrant family fight to control their destinies, exiled from a homeland they never knew.

In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant—and that her lover is married—she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home and to reject her son’s powerful father sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.

Richly told and profoundly moving, Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty. From the bustling street markets to the halls of Japan’s finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, Lee’s complex and passionate characters—strong, stubborn women, devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis—survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history.

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  • Grand Central Publishing
  • Paperback
  • January 2018
  • 496 Pages
  • 9781455563920

Buy the Book

$15.99

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About Min Jin Lee

Min Jin Lee’s debut novel, Free Food for Millionaires, was one of the “Top 10 Novels of the Year” for The Times (London), NPR’s Fresh Air, and USA Today. She lives in New York with her family.

Praise

“A powerful meditation on what immigrants sacrifice to achieve a home in the world. Pachinko confirms Lee’s place among our finest novelists.”Junot Díaz

“Stunning….A compassionate, clear gaze at the chaotic landscape of life itself.”New York Times Book Review

“Ambitious…a social novel in the Dickensian vein.”USA Today

 “A deep, broad, addictive history of a Korean family in Japan enduring and prospering through the 20th century.”David Mitchell, Guardian

Discussion Questions

1. “History has failed us, but no matter.” How does the opening line reflect the rest of the book—and do you agree?

2. In a way, Sunja’s relationship with Isak progresses in reverse, as her pregnancy by another man brings them together and prompts Isak to propose marriage. How does Lee redefine intimacy and love with these two characters?

3. What does “home” mean to each of the main characters? Does it ever change? In what ways does a yearning for home color the tone of the novel?

4. How do courting and marriage alter from one generation to the next?

5. Compare the ways in which the women of this novel—from Sunja to Hana— experience sex.

6. How much agency and power do you think Sunja really has over her life?

7. Much is made of Sunja’s fading beauty, as well as the physical appearance of all the women who surround her. What does this reveal about society at this time? Do you see this emphasis on female beauty reflected in present-day culture?

8. Throughout the book, characters often must choose between survival and tradition or morality. Can you think of any examples that embody this tension?

9. Many of the main characters struggle with shame throughout their lives, whether due to their ethnicity, family, life choices, or other factors. How does shame drive both their successes and failures?

10. The terms “good Korean” and “good Japanese” are used many times throughout the book. What does it mean to be a “good Korean”? A “good Japanese”?

11. Compare the many parent-child relationships in the novel. How do they differ across families and generations? What hopes and dreams does each parent hold for their children—and are these hopes rewarded?

12. Even in death or physical absence, the presence of many characters lingers on throughout the book. How does this affect your reading experience? How would the book have been different if it were confined to one character’s perspective?

13. Why do you think the author chose Pachinko for the title?