Pinball machines in Japan are a money-spinning $200 billion dollar industry that generates 30x more cash than Las Vegas and employs more people than the top 10 car manufacturers. Known as Pachinko, the parlours, in which the pinball game is played, are dominated by Korean-Japanese workers and owners. During World War II, as many as 7.8 million Koreans were forced into hard labour by Imperial Japan. Despite this atrocity, there was no respite and at the end of the war, hundreds of thousands of Koreans faced isolating discrimination and ill-treatment. So in this unwelcome environment, for many Koreans, the only place of work, the only place of acceptance and safe haven were the illegal Pachinko parlours.
Across a mammoth 490 pages, Pachinko the game serves not just as the book’s title, but as an effective metaphor for the lives and history of Koreans in Japan (sometimes referred to as Zainichi, and specifically Korean migrants who can trace their heritage to Colonial Japan).
Author Min Jin Lee spent five years interviewing Koreans in Japan, and the result is a purposeful, straightforward book that unravels a multi-generational family saga of the struggles to fit into a society that treats you with contempt. Pachinko also serves as an investigation into how racism can crystallise into the institutional or structural oppression of migrant communities.
Min Jin Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea and immigrated to Queens, New York with her family in 1976 when she was seven years old. At Yale College, she majored in History and was awarded the Henry Wright Prize for Nonfiction and the James Ashmun Veech Prize for Fiction. She attended law school at Georgetown University and worked as a lawyer for several years in New York prior to writing full time.
Pachinko (2017) was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction, a runner-up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, winner of the Medici Book Club Prize, and a New York Times 10 Best Books of 2017. A Pachinko was a selection for “Now Read This,” the joint book club of PBS NewsHour and The New York Times. It was on over 75 best books of the year lists, including NPR, PBS, and CNN. Pachinko will be translated into 30 languages.
Pachinko featured in Heady Mix’s California Dreaming collection that featured stories of belonging and acceptance in relation to immigration – written by international migrants from all over the world.