The Role of the Outsider in Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko (Ploughshares blog)

I recently published a new essay, “The Role of the Outsider in Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko on the Ploughshares blog. This book was on the National Book Award shortlist for 2017, deservedly so. It is a multigenerational family saga about a Korean family that moves to Osaka, Japan, in the early twentieth century and then lives there through the World War years and beyond. It’s painful, honest, and beautiful, and I cannot recommend it enough.

When Pachinko by Min Jin Lee opens in Japan-occupied Korea in 1910 with Hoonie, whose cleft palate and twisted foot lead the village girls to avoid him, the significance of his physical appearance to the overall themes of the novel is not immediately apparent. Hoonie’s hardworking, kind nature and his family’s successful inn eventually produce an opportunity for him to marry Yangjin, an impoverished young woman from a tenant-farming family. As the novel progresses, characters who are “marked” appear more and more frequently. The marks relegate these characters, who all fall within one family tree, to outsider status. Continue reading…

In case it’s not obvious from some of my previous posts, I’ve been reading a lot of books set in Korea and by Korean authors lately. I’m so grateful to see so many of these books coming out (some in translation, some written in English) because Korea has too often been neglected by the literary establishment in spite of its fascinating place in the real world. I’ve learned so much, and look forward to reading and learning more, since there are a number of forthcoming titles already on my to-be-read list for 2018.