submitted by Kit Darling and the members of the Bay Area Book Club
In February we read Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. The title refers to a Japanese gambling game, similar to slots or pinball. As in the book, where some of the slots are ‘fixed’ and others not, there is always some hope of winning. And this is the metaphor for the family in this multigenerational saga as it is for many of the Koreans living in Japan at this time. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Korea is annexed by Japan. A hard life for many of the Koreans becomes hand-to-mouth, a hard scrabble. Some look to migrating to Japan in hopes of a better life in a richer country. But there are few routes to a better life in Japan. In our story, Sunja and her family live in a small, rickety house in what is essentially the Korean ghetto. For many Koreans, the only road open is through menial labour or for the few, the Yakuza or criminal syndicates. Sunja, a young girl living with her mother near a small fishing community on an island in Korea is seduced by a well-to-do Korean who lives in Japan. She is devastated by the truth – that he is married – and refuses to have more to do with him. But – she is pregnant. A young, Korean Christian Isak, offers to marry her and take her to Japan with him. Noa, Sunja’s son only knows Isak as his father. He becomes a brilliant student despite the discrimination that he faces, and in a twist of fate, his natural father finds Sunja and offers to pay for his education at a prestigious Japanese University. When Noa ultimately learns the truth, his life takes a disastrous turn. The reality of life in Japan for Koreans was illustrated by Sunja’s second son, Mozasu, whose ownership of pachinko parlors has made him well-to-do and not affiliated with the Yakuza tells his best friend “In Seoul, people like me get called Japanese bastard, and in Japan, I’m just another dirty Korean no matter how much money I make, or how nice I am.”
At 479 pages this may seem a daunting challenge, but the story engages you in the lives of Sunja and her family. Well worth the read.
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah. Fans will not be disappointed by Hannah’s latest, set in Texas during the Great Depression and continuing to California in the 1930s. Millions are out of work and the plains are turning to dust from years of drought. Crops fail, water dries up, and the earth cracks. Farmers struggle to keep their land, but bank foreclosures fast become the norm. The central character, Elsa Martinelli, is working desperately with her husband’s family to save their farm. The situation is made devastatingly worse when Elsa’s husband joins the millions of hobos riding the rails to find a better life. After years of want and suffering, Elsa leaves Texas and heads to California to find a better life for herself and her two children. However, the paradise she expected to find is overwhelmed by impoverished people desperate for food and work on giant farms. The American Dream is a nightmare. The novel reaches its climax during the fight to organize the migrant workers. The Great Depression is stunningly brought to life. However, the book abounds in emotional manipulation because every bad thing that can happen, happens to Elsa. Nevertheless, it is a good historical perspective and a vivid portrait of the American Dust Bowl. Paige Turner
Note: The bookmobile stops at Bennetto Recreation Centre, Thursdays from 4:30 to 5:00. There is no access to the bookmobile to browse, but staff are on hand for contactless returns and holds pickup.
Have you read any of our recommendations? Liked any of the same books we talked about or disagreed totally? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org .