Pachinko


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I read a hard-back copy that had a light yellow cover and a close up of a pachinko machine on it.  Page references also include Book/Chapter references for ease across different versions.  This is a story about Koreans who are displaced to Japan during wartime.  I've never really been interested in Asian culture and much less war stories - so this book is not one I would choose for myself.  But it didn't take me long to become caught up in the romantic possibilities of the story and interested enough to keep reading in order to see how it turned out.

The author has a gift for keeping a large number of characters on the canvas and having them all likeable.  I even liked the one who seemed a predator until p. 351 and when it was confirmed it was still hard to stop liking them.  It seemed like there were a lot of deaths toward the end of the book.



On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):

Sex: 3.5

Religion: 3

Gruesome: 0

Suspense: 1

Morality: 3

Traditional: 4

Sex - p. 46 (End B1Ch5) some detail, more allusion, girl is somewhat taken advantage of (p. 48-49)  B2Ch9 p. 236-237 whorehouse, masturbation, moderate details.  Man remembers his young girlfriend with detail (B3Ch3 p. 352-353). B3Ch6 p. 370-375 homosexual encounter in the park, followed by many other couples encounters.
(B3Ch14) Teens begin sexual relations.

Religion - p. 66 (B1Ch8) biblical story of Hosea, one character is a preacher

Gruesome -

Suspense -

Morality - (B3Ch13) Hana flirts rather sexily at a funeral.  Solomon paid for cookies Hana stole so the clerk didn't get in trouble.  Christians are kind to a loose woman dying of aids.

Traditional - Hansu had non-traditional views on marriage. (B1Ch6)  Mozasu speaks roughly, cusses and fights.  (B2Ch17) homosexual subtleties.  Many examples of wives honoring their husbands.

If you want insight into the treatment of Koreans in Japan you can glean a lot from this book.  The most significant discussions of the differences between Japanese and Koreans occur in B3Ch16+.  For example, in 1989 Koreans still couldn't rent an apartment without a guarantor.  Even the "white Italian who had lived in Japan for twenty years" (p. 446) thought badly of Koreans.  B3Ch17 p. 449 - In Japan everyone wants to be like everyone else so when the war ended and they didn't have that unity and rigidity they were afraid of being different.  Elites want to be "english and white" and rich kids thought they were middle class.


Discussion Questions

(p. 24 - end of B1Ch3) Why is Sunja's pregnancy dropped in so subtly?

Isak said "...a God that did everything we thought was right and good wouldn't be the creator of the universe.  He would be our puppet." (p. 61 end B1Ch7)  Discuss the idea.

(p. 68-69 B1Ch8)  "...there are coincidences too. ... It's dangerous to think that everything is a sign from God.  Perhaps God is always talking to us but we don't know how to listen. (p. 61)

End of B1Ch11 (p. 95) a mother gives a daughter life advice.  What would you add?

Discuss different ways of raising a child - with and without praise.  (B2Ch4 p. 183)

There are several places in the novel where the author provides long explanations about Koreans using multiple names (B2Ch10) and also the way Koreans were treated by Japanese.  How does the repetition add to the message?

What makes Noa and Mozasu so different in regards to school even though they were raised in the same household?

(B2Ch11)  Whenever Mozasu got in trouble for fights he gave "a sincere apology".  How many sincere apologies can one give?

(B2Ch13) p. 266 - Yoseb reflects, "There were so many things he had failed to do.  There were even more things he should never have done."  Which will you have more of?

Yoseb felt like a burden because he wasn't dying.  How is this dilemma applicable to today's health care environment?

Was it right that Hansu paid for Noa's school?

B2CH18 p. 307 bottom - Working Koreans viewed tasty food as fuel to be eaten quickly so as to get back to work.  Well-off Japanese thought that eating quickly was "vulgar".  What other opposites are you aware of from yours or other cultures?  "In America, everything seemed fixable and in Japan, difficult problems were to be endured." (p. 462)

Read the passage at the beginning of B3 from Benedict Anderson and discuss as it applies today.

In this era of #METOO, consider Japanese men and women.  Does/should the METOO exist in Asian culture?  Or should Americans be more tolerant like the Asians?

(B3Ch8) p. 387  Discuss the balance between "not lov[ing] one's family over God" and vocations and "being a mother who loved her children too much had helped her to understand a little of what God went through."

(B3Ch8 end) Why did Noa take the final action?  How else could the scenario have played out?

(B3Ch9 p. 396 before the break) "The penalties incurred for the mistakes you made had to be paid out in full to the members of your family."  Contrast this with the Bible, Exodus 20:5 "I the Lord, thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me." and Shakespeare, "The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children." ("The Merchant of Venice, Act III, Sc. V, I. 1)

In B3Ch11 p. 412 "And yet we played on, because we had hope that we might be the lucky ones."  This is a narration shift - who is the "we" referred to.  How does the style shift affect the impact of the statement.

(B3Ch11?)  "Etsuko had failed in this important way - she had not taught her children to hope, to believe in the perhaps - absurd possibility that they might win."  How important is hope in your life?  Would you be happier if you didn't hope for things but just took life as it came?

(B3Ch12) - A woman's lot is to suffer.  Is this true in any culture?  Why or why not?

(B3Ch12) p. 420 Yangjin thought Mozasu came from better blood than Noa.  Do you agree?

(B3Ch12) p. 420 Old people leave mean inheritances.  With all the politeness ingrained in Yangjin's culture, why would she say mean things in her old age?

(B3Ch12) p. 421 Did Sunja care more about her sons than her mother?  Should she have?

(B3Ch12) p. 422 Did illness and dying change Yangjin or reverse her truer thoughts?

How does this story compare to the biblical story of Joseph?  (B3Ch 13)

Are there more differences or similarities with Japanese treatment of 2nd and 3rd generation Japanese-born Koreans or Chinese as with U.S. treatment of 2nd or 3rd generation U.S. born foreigners from particular cultures?

(B3Ch19) Did Goro or Mozasu cause Matsuda's death?  Or was it an excuse to fire Solomon? (Ch. 20 p. 472)

Hana thought Koreans would never be accepted in Japan.  Was she right?  What about the U.S.?  Are we afraid of differences?

Were you happy with Solomon's ultimate career decision?
Were you happy with Sunja's ultimate romance decision?

Theme Ideas

Serve udon like Isak and Sunja had on their first outing.

Serve pumpkin taffy like Yoseb brought for Noa (Bk2Ch1 p. 153)

Serve kimchi like Sunja & Kyunghee made and sold (B2Ch2)

Serve candy in honor of Sunja & Kyunghee's efforts to make and sell sweets. 

Have a pachinko machine on site.

Serve tea (common in Japan) and biscuits like Totoyama served Goro when they went for Mozasu's manager uniforms. (B2Ch16)

Serve fish jeonn or chicken jorim like Sunja would make for Toto (B3Ch4 p. 355) or bulgogi that Solomon said was Toto's favorite meal.

Serve pajeon like Sunja and Kyunghee were making when Solomon and Phoebe went to visit. (B3Ch18 p. 455)

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