Over this past week, I’ve been immersed in Pachinko. To be specific, I had the fortunate assignment to read Min Jin Lee’s masterful novel Pachinko, which is a family saga about the world of Koreans living in Japan.
I’ve always loved the sprawling social novels of the 19th century – Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and Hard Times, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.
In the 20th century, perhaps the most famous social novel was John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, which exposed the hardships of migrant farm workers. These are all works that explore pressing social problems through the lives of characters. They’re also sometimes called protest novels, because they often aim to expose a social injustice.
Pachinko is a social novel in that great tradition. Told in the omniscient third person, it follows the lives of four generations of members of a Korean family that emigrated to Japan, facing decades of discrimination and even, in the case of the grandfather of the family, the Presbyterian minister Baek Isak, and his brutal imprisonment.
I loved this novel so much that I didn’t want Pachinko to end. It was rightly chosen as a National Book Award finalist and has earned a place on my living room bookshelf where I keep my favorite books. The fact that I loved it so much made the invitation to be in conversation with its author, Min Jin Lee, even more thrilling.
Our conversation took place Monday, July 13st and was the kick-off event of the Sonoma Valley Authors Festival. I can’t fully express how much fun it was to talk with Min about the writing life, about where she finds her inspiration, and about the very specific challenges she’s faced in making her way through the world as a writer.
Tune in and join us! Here’s the link. And here’s a screenshot of the Zoom conversation between Min and me!
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