Pachinko opens with the portentous words ‘History has failed us, but no matter.’ The novel is a sweeping, engrossing family saga, written in simple prose, covering eighty years and four generations. Along the way we learn a great deal about the society, culture and history of Japan in the 20th century, seen always through the lens of one family’s experiences. Pachinko throws into high relief the relentless discrimination suffered by Koreans – and, for that matter, any outsiders – living in Japan. It’s a subject that anyone who has settled in Japan cannot fail to be aware of.
The story begins in 1932, when Korea has been under Japanese rule for over twenty years. A tone of hardship and suffering is set from the start. Sunja is the daughter of a club-footed, cleft-lipped fisherman who runs a boarding house on a tiny island with his wife.