Okay, so this book doesn’t qualify as a “Great Book” to me but it was shortlisted for the National Book Award in 2017. Other people have lauded this book to the skies for its theme of generations of discrimination against Japanese-born Koreans, but for me, this book was really just about sex.
The very first sex scene, I grant, was necessary to the plot. I can’t say the same for any of the others. Is this book really so great or is it just titillating to readers?
Also, point of view (POV). There were at least twenty different heads you got inside, and sometimes point of view shifted within a single scene. I admired the technical aspect of Min Jin Lee’s POV shifting, but halfway through the book, when we got inside yet another character’s head, for no apparent reason, it got a bit too much.
Structurally, I kept hoping the book would build on the struggles and suffering of the previous generations and have something bigger to offer than, “Great-grandson is unjustly discriminated against and his hooker friend urges him to go work in his father’s casino.”
How did the Brontës and Daphne du Maurier and George Eliot manage to write stories that had a more coherent arc of struggle, growth and triumph without a single sex scene?
If you do decide to read it, it’s not all bad, but be forewarned:
-POV shifts (Seamless shifting, but too much shifting)
-Historical details, but some were jarring to Korean readers as this blogger writes in The Misplaced Props in Pachinko.
-Despite the title, no more than a passing description of Pachinko—I still don’t know how the game is played, or how one can win or lose money. I couldn’t even picture a pachinko parlour until I did an image search for this blog. If you’re going to refer to this “landscape”, you’d better spend some time on it. It’s a myth that modern readers don’t like description. My historical fiction writer’s group kept repeating “More description! More details!”
-Characters that didn’t grow, just kept repeating the same old questions, the same trite stereotyped ideas, ex. “Women’s lot in life is to suffer.”
-Christian characters with no knowledge of basic Christian beliefs.
-Too many pages developing tangential characters.
-Sex scenes with no apparent purpose
-Important characters dying “off-stage” and given only a passing sentence. I was like, “What? She killed him off and didn’t show us?”
So a terribly flawed book can still get published and be enjoyed. May this fact light the dark days of writing my next novel…
In order to slow down my frenetic book-eating, I'm writing reviews of the books I read to better digest them. Bon appétit!