Episode 34: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko is a pinball game, wildly popular in Japan, where it is an industry dominated by Koreans, who are legally excluded from the more respectable professions. It is the business of Mozasu Boku,whose family we follow from his grandmother’s marriage, to his parents’ immigration to Japan, through his and his brother’s struggles, and to his own son’s coming of age. For Mozasu, whose business dealings give him access to wealth beyond the wildest dreams of his parents and grandparents, pachinko represents success. But it comes to represent, too, the limits of how far a Korean may rise in a society determined to keep the outsider outside. Even more than that, pachinko becomes a metaphor for life in this sprawling novel, where, in the words of the author, “[people] make money from chance and fear and loneliness . . . [where] there [can] only be a few winners and a lot of losers and yet [where] we play on, because we [have] hope that we might be the lucky ones,” where we continue “to believe in the perhaps absurd possibility that [we] might win.”
Host Cyd Oppenheimer talks with Min Jin Lee about writing what you know and what you don't know, about how to put words on the page in the face of self-doubt, and about what she sees at the very heart of this novel ("It's about race, and refugees, and assimilation, but I think, above all, it's a book about survival").