‘Pachinko’ author’s first book covers lives of Korean Americans
Quite a few prominent books are available about China and Japan written in English and widely loved by global readers.
For the former country, there are “The Good Earth” by Pearl Buck, “Wild Swans” by Jung Chang, and “Red Star Over China” by Edgar Snow.
About Japan, people can find “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” by Ruth Benedict and “Empire of Signs” by Roland Barthes.
How about Korea? People may think about “Song of Arirang” by Nym Wales, the wife of Edgar Snow, and “The Origins of the Korean War” by Bruce Cumings.
But the former is about a Korean revolutionary who left colonized Korea as a teenager and fight against Japanese imperialism together with Chinese communists. Hence, the memoir is more about China.
And the latter is about the Korea’s most tragic history of the three-year war between 1950 and 1953, which killed almost 5 million people, with more than half of them being civilians.
In a nutshell, Korea does not have a representative book, which tells good stories about its history or people in English, unlikely its neighbors, China or Japan.
“Pachinko” by Lee Min-jin might be the best book about Korea, even though the 2017 book mostly depicts Koreans in Japan.
After reading “Pachinko,” which was adopted as a TV show by Apple TV+, people were naturally tempted to read the author’s only other book, “Free Food for Millionaires.”
Lee tried to show the lives of Korean Americans in the 2007 book.
“In my attempt at the community novel, I wanted very much to reveal the complicated individuals who make up the Korean Americans I know,” she said in an interview at the end of the book.
“As a writer, I wanted to place the same demands on my non-Korean-American characters as well.”
To be frank, however, Lee’s first book is seemingly not greater than her second one. “Free Food for Millionaire” appears to cover too many sexual relationships _ everyone cheats or is cheated.
Hopefully, her third book of “American Hagwon” will be more like “Pachinko,” which so vividly deals with the lives of Korean people and history during the early and mid-20th century.