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Author of Korean-Japanese saga coming to South Main Books

Why Lee chose to write about wartime


Grand Central Publishing

From an interview with Min Jin Lee, author of “Pachinko.”

Q: What initially inspired you to write this novel? Why did you choose to focus on Korea and Japan during a time of war?

A: I learned about the Korean-Japanese people nearly 30 years ago when I was in college. I didn’t know anything about this community, which had its origins during the Japanese colonial occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945.

As a history major and as an immigrant, I was curious about the Korean diaspora, resulting from the invasions and destabilization of the once-unified nation.

However, what really moved me to write this novel and to rewrite it so many times were the compelling stories of individuals who struggled to face historical catastrophes. Although the history of kings and rulers is unequivocally fascinating, I think that we are also hungry for the narrative history of ordinary people, who lack connections and material resources.

The modern Korean is informed by the legacy of the Japanese occupation, World War II, the Cold War and the Korean War as well as Confucianism, Buddhism, Communism and Christianity. All these topics are reflected in this book, because they interest me, but I wanted to explore and better understand how common people live through these events and issues.

These wars and ideas loom large in our imagination, but on a daily basis, such events and beliefs are illustrated concretely from moment to moment.

“Pachinko,” by Min Jin Lee. Grand Central Publishing. 496 pages. 

By Wendy Beeker

South Main Books

Meeting authors and going to book conferences are two of the nice perks that come along with owning an independent bookstore. In September of 2016, I had the pleasure of listening to Min Jin Lee present her book, “Pachinko,” (not yet in print) at a luncheon for 200-plus booksellers and publishers.

She was smart, confident, funny and endearing. I couldn’t wait to start it. I read the first line, “History has failed us, but no matter.” I knew I was in for something special.

Lee will be at South Main Book Co., 110 S. Main St., on Tuesday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Pachinko is a four-generation saga that begins in early-1900s Korea with shy, earnest Sunja. A man, married and the head of a black-market business, seduces her. To the shame of the family, Sunja is pregnant and unwed.

There is a beautiful scene of the man picking mushrooms in the forest with Sunja. As I read, I could hear the dried leaves crunching underfoot and smell the raw-dirt earthiness of the mushrooms.

Their relationship is part of the central plot and it follows them to Japan.

War, poverty and racism make up a lot of Sunja’s life, but there is also love and tenderness. Her family’s strength, endurance and faith keep them going in the worst of times.

It took Min Jin Lee 10 years to write this book, and her in-depth research into the history is evident.

She has been all over the world promoting “Pachinko,” and I feel so lucky to have her coming to my book shop. I love this book, was transported by it and I think you will be as well.

Wendy Beeker is owner of South Main Book Co.

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