Pachinko – Min Jin Lee

“History has failed us, but no matter. “

It’s crazy to think that one of the greatest things about this book is this first sentence. I’ve come across Pachinko years and years ago oh, and I always had a very big curiosity to read the story, even at some point considered but I could write a thesis or something about it, if I like it the book enough for that. Now I finally read this book and it was one of the most underwhelming experiences I’ve had recently.

We follow the story of a family across a century but the way the narrative conveyed this didn’t give me the damage, drama, and weight that it was supposed to have. There are too many characters and they come across as flat, underdeveloped, and too fleeting for you to take too much notice or to even begin to care about them. There was too many inconsistencies regarding to how much time the author’s spend in each chapter or part of the story or even the books at the novel is divided on. For example I found the first book to beat wait longer than it needed to be it was very boring first start very slow. The second book was better. And the third book was way too fast like years spanning from one chapter to another got some chapters ended with big revelations and big happenings and then the next chapter we didn’t even see the development of that action. The time just passed and you didn’t feel the weight of things and that was so frustrating to me because there was some really awful things that happened and I didn’t even get to see the characters reacting to them. There were also a lot of unnecessary chapters that the rated a situation or a character that didn’t even make an appearance later on or didn’t add up to anything or wasn’t explained and it just felt like some random things written down that were completely off with the vibe of the book.

Something else I didn’t like was the writing I know this is a book written in Korean and then translated to Portuguese which is the language that I read in and I know that these two languages have nothing in common and their whole phradsl structure are different but still I felt that the writing was too impersonal and too dettached for such a compelling an interesting story that it could have been. I felt that the third person writing it’s not the problem itself, but combine it with too many characters in such a short book, because I never thought I would say this book might need to be bigger even though it’s a contradiction because a lot of it was necessary and/or badly developed, but it is and maybe if this book was bigger and written in a different way it could have conveyed the story in the better shape. I don’t know if what I’m saying is making sense but it’s how I feel. If we either had more focus on the characters in a way that could make me care more deeply about that maybe with the lower cast of characters, or if the writing was more beautiful and compelling then the book would have been better. And it’s interesting that these aspects complement each other because if the writing we’re better maybe than the characters would have been written in the better way and vice versa.

However, the strongest and most important thing about this book is its portrayal of a historical period. It goes from the occupation of Japan in Korea, through the second world war and then onward until the late 1989’s and depicts the dynamics and relations between koreans and japanese with intense care for detail and an astounding work of research. I learned so much in this book and this single fact alone prevents me from giving it less than a 3-star rating. Looking at it through a literary lenses there are a lot of problems and things I disliked, but looking at it and it in an educational way this is incredible and that cannot go unnoticed.

For some reason I feel like if this book was written differently it could be like A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, in terms of being the type of book that destroys you while portraying something so real and devastating and that goes on in people’s lives. Maybe that was a type of book I was expecting to encounter and that’s why it made it so hard to reconcile my expectations with what I actually got.

In the end it is a book I would recommend, for the simple historical and educational aspect alone. Don’t go into it thinking it will be a beautiful and devastating story, with characters too fall in love with and break your heart and compulsively readable with a great writing. Go into it knowing you’ll learn something about the world and that it is worth it.

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