Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

“Living everyday in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 496 pages.
Read from October 27, 2020 to November 6, 2020.

Another great recommendation that I can’t recall where I got it from. I think I stumbled upon it as historical fiction involving multigenerational stories are concepts I get excited about. It also helps that this book racked up a variety of literary awards in 2017/2018.

Pachinko, as I learned, is a popular type of gambling in Japan that started in the 1920s. The concept of the game is a mash up of a VLT and a pinball machine.

From left to right: a pre war pachinko game, 1970s pachinko machine, bottom photos are of the current modern machines.

Pachinko, in this novel, is a metaphor for the struggles of life, especially that of the Korean family in the story, and many others during is time under Japanese occupation.

“Life’s going to keep pushing you around, but you have to keep playing…”

The story begins in the 1900s with a teen named Sunja around the beginnings of the Japanese occupation detailing her poor but humble life at a fishing village in Korea. She is taken with an older stranger to the village named Hansu who fills her head with love and promises, however, when she falls pregnant he confesses to already having a family in Japan. Hansu is wealthy and does care about Sunja but Sunja is stunned by the betrayal and refuses any help from Hansu despite knowing the social rejection she will face being an unmarried mother. She instead decides to marry a kind, but sickly, minster named Baek Isak who knows her situation and takes her in regardless. Sunja leaves her home and follows her new husband to Japan. She gives birth to her first son Noa and to another son by Baek Isak named Mozasu. She lives with Baek Isak’s brother and sister-in-law in the Korean slums in Japan. While she finds a deep companionship with her sister-in-law, Japan is immensely unkind to Koreans and the conditions in which she lives are worse than they were in Korea. Sunja is stubborn and persistent and shakes conventional norms for the sake of keeping her family fed. Sunja’s sons struggle with acceptance as they are born and raised in Japan but their heritage makes them less than in the eyes of the Japanese. This struggle is particularly awful for Noa, who, is very academically astute, tended to hide is heritage. Mozasu is a much more practical child who grows up to take on a pachinko business, often viewed as dishonourable work. Despite Sunja’s rejection of Hansu, the decision comes to affect her whole life as well as her sons’, as Hansu isn’t so easily deterred.

Pachinko is a deeply moving story that encompasses so many themes and emotions. While the story embodies struggle, it’s very much about love, resilience, standing by your beliefs, and ambition. You become deeply invested in these sturdy and resilient characters as they endure hardship over nearly four generations.

“People are awful. Drink some beer.”

The book emphasises and focuses on strong and stubborn female characters with empathic and equally as strong male characters that compliment them in a compromising and highly patriarchal society. The story itself is very much focused on the characters and doesn’t discuss the nuances of the political situation in too much depth other than the depictions of suffering and persecution that this family endured. I think this approach has made this book accessible to readers who may not enjoy historical fiction. For me, it made me want to learn more about this tumultuous time for Korea as after the Japanese occupation is when the North and South of Korea parted ways, making for a very long and difficult era for Korea and its people.

Overall it was a wonderful and enrapturing read, despite it being a bit long, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in historical fiction, multigenerational sagas, immersive characters, or an interest in Korean and Japanese culture and relations.

All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

“Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony—Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?”

4/5 star.
ebook, 240 pages.
Read from October 14, 2019 to October 21, 2019.

I’ve always been fascinated with literature or poetry that’s set during WWI. While all wars have their own atrocities, there is something so raw and personal about WWI since it occurred before many of the modern technological war advances that we saw in WWII and beyond. Why it took me so long to read this novel, which could be considered the canon of WWI novels, I don’t know.

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Erich Maria Remarque

Erich Maria Remarque was conscripted into the German army November 1916 at 18 years of age where he served in a variety of areas including the Western Front, where the main outbreak of the war took place. For the publication of this novel, he changed his middle name to honour his mother and had previously published works under the name of Erich Remark (his family name had been changed to this by his grandfather in the 19th century). This novel was published in 1929 and alludes to Erich’s experiences of turmoil, distress, trauma, and detachment that he may have experienced, either first or second hand, while serving in WWI. Erich was injured by some shrapnel in late July 1917 where he spent the remainder of the war recovering from his wounds before being demobilised. While he may not have served long, he was able to take his own experiences as well as listen to the stories of many of the injured around him to create this novel.

This novel follows a young man named Paul, who like the author, is serving on the Western Front of WWI. The group of young men voluntarily sign up to join the war efforts without knowing what they were getting into. The camaraderie between the young men is strong and intense and the writing illuminates and does justice to these unique friendships. Paul loses many of his friends and company and the author spares no details in the grittiness of the war and the conditions that Paul and his company had to endure. This also includes the few breaks in which he was able to go back home for a short time and realising that he cannot connect to those around him anymore. Paul also reflects that the war, if he survives it, has robbed him and all the other men of his age of a future they can no longer envision.

Of all the scenes, there is one that stuck out and that I will never forget, and that is when Paul has to kill a man in very close combat. The scene is so visceral that I’m sure I was holding my breath when I read it. The scene was so well executed that it makes me wonder if the author himself experienced something similar during his time or if a fellow soldier left the same impression on him after a recounting.

Regardless of how involved the author was in the war himself, he took the time to gather experiences and wrote the novel that summed up a generation of soldiers and an unforgettably gruesome and personal war. This is a novel that should be a required read for generations to come so that the atrocities of WWI and the sacrifices that were made will never be forgotten.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

This debut novel explores the story of the family leading up to the murders and the idea of whether or not Lizzie did indeed commit the murders.

Originally published on Apr 27, 2017.


He was still bleeding.” I yelled, “Someone’s killed Father.”

4/5 stars.
324 pages, ebook.
Read from April 7, 2017 to April 8, 2017.

Thanks to Netgalley for this ARC and for fueling my crime and murder intrigue!  I would like to point out that I technically finished this book in one sitting whilst on a 14-hour flight that crossed over between two different days. Yeah, high-fives for me!

Everyone knows the story, or at least the song: “Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.” On August 4, 1892 in Fall River Massachusetts, Lizzie Borden was charged with murdering her father and step-mother with an axe. Lizzie was later acquitted of the murder, despite the majority of people believing she was guilty, because basically it was thought that women could not be capable of committing such a brutal act. Narrated from many perspectives, this debut novel explores the story of the family leading up to the murders and the idea of whether or not Lizzie did indeed commit the murders.

Toying with the idea that Lizzie was spoiled and functioning at a child-like capacity (it was easy to forget that she is actually a grown woman), the novel reflects on how her sister Emma has been trying to escape the family home and getaway from Lizzie since the passing of their mother. Their overbearing father, Andrew, always favoured Lizzie and did little to spare Emma any responsibilities after the passing of their mother, even though he has since married a plump woman named Abby.  The home was tense and unhappy. Even the maid, Bridget, is saving every spare coin she had to getaway from the argumentative and strange family.  However trouble is brewing on the horizon and someone has it in for Andrew Borden. With an intense climax and twisted ending, this book will not fail inquisitive minds.

Schmidt is the queen of acute and sensory descriptions. There are few books that can describe blood and vomit in such an uncanny way.  If you are at all squeamish, this book may be a bit unsettling for you but don’t let that stop you. I promise it is worth it. The book is intensely visual and the author has an immense talent in bringing her words alive.  The characters, especially Lizzie, are curious, disruptive, complicated and disturbing and the plot adds a new twist to an old story.

I expect to see a lot from this author in the future as this novel is a killer debut! Ha, see what I did there? Bad joke… yeah. Anyway! If you are at all interested in true-crime, historical-fiction, murder, or just curious characters with great visuals then add this book to your to-read list ASAP and pick up a copy this summer when it comes out in August.