Trying to Keep Up – Turning the Pages

How do you like your books – hard cover with pages to bend over, electronic on a phone or pad, plugged into your ears? Mine come in all flavors – three I am reading now:

Hardback:

160px-Free_Food_for_Millionaires   After finishing and enjoying Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, I found her first novel – Free Food for Millionaires – and am now ensconced in her beautiful language and another tale of Korean immigrants – this time in New York City.

“…a tale of first-generation immigrants stuck between stodgy parents and the hip new world with focus on contemporary intergenerational cultural friction.”

So far, Casey has graduated from Princeton, been thrown out of her father’s house for disrespect, finds her boyfriend in bed with two women, and has headed to the Carlyle Hotel In New York City with her new credit card…what next?

E-book:

contentIsabelle Allende’s In the Midst of Winter caught my eye and I am reading another tale of immigrants on my iPhone – this time in Brooklyn.

The novel revolves around three main characters: Evelyn Ortega, a twenty-year old young Guatemalan born, illegal immigrant;  Lucia Maraz, an older woman and a Chilean born academic who lives in exile in the United States; and Richard Bowmaster, her landlord and colleague, who was married to a Brazilian woman earlier in his life.  The three are thrown together when Richard rear ends the car Evelyn is driving. This minor accident draws the murdered body in the trunk of Evelyn’s car into the action.”

Audiobook:

51EQME-NuJL._SL150_   When I read a review of George Eliot’s Scenes of Clerical Life, I could not resist this classic.  It is available for free on Gutenberg Press, but with so many credits on audible, I decided to listen to it in the lovely British tones of Wanda McCaddon.

“This work, George Eliot’s fiction debut, contains three stories, all of which aim to disclose the value hidden in the commonplace.  The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton, through vignettes of his life, portrays a character who is hard to like and easy to ridicule. Many people ridicule as well as slander and despise him, until his suffering shocks them into fellowship and sympathy.  In Mr. Gilfil’s Love-Story, Eliot brings forth conflicting value systems revolving around a young woman, Caterina, and two men, Wybrow, who is capable of loving only himself, and Mr. Gilfil, whose love for Caterina is selfless and perceptive.  The story Janet’s Repentance is an account of conversion from sinfulness to righteousness achieved through the selfless endeavors of an Evangelical clergyman.”

Lots to read – hope I can keep all the story lines from overlapping.  What are you reading?

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Pachinko

Unknown  Far into this saga of a Korean family in Japan, Min Jin Lee offers the reason for naming her book – Pachinko – for a popular Japanese pinball gambling game:

“Mozasu believed life was like this game where the player could adjust the dials yet also expect the uncertainty of factors he couldn’t control…something that looked fixed but which also left room for randomness and hope.”

Across four generations of Koreans, Min Jin Lee follows the history of Korea as it struggles through poverty, sublimation under Japanese rule, and the famous war dividing the country as it is today.  Nominated for the National Book Award, Pachinko captivates the reader with its characters while revealing their long and continuing effort for freedom and prosperity.

The timeline begins in Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 20th century, continues to Japan before World War II and finally to the late 1980s in Japan.. The novel opens with an arranged marriage in a fishing village in what would be South Korea today.  The one daughter from the marriage, Sunja, is the continuing fulcrum for the story of her progeny.  When Sunja falls in love with a prominent and older married mobster, Hansu,  she becomes pregnant.  After declining Hansu’s offer to be his Korean mistress, she accepts the offer of marriage from a local Presbyterian minister from the North visiting her parents’ boarding house.    She escapes her disgrace by marrying him and immigrating to his brother’s house in an ethnic Korean neighborhood in Osaka, Japan.  Throughout the novel, Hansu’s influence acts as a counterbalance.  His world of gambling seems innocuous until an incident reveals his cruelty and mobster power against anyone who crosses him.

Koreans in Japan were noncitizens, forced to change their names and regularly reapply for passports within a country where they might have been born.  Discrimination against them ranged from outright hostility to snobbish avoidance.  Sonja’s sons do not escape being ostracized; Noa, the son of the gangster and first in his family with a university education, yearns to be Japanese, his younger brother, Mozasu never seems to attain social status despite his wealth and connections.  Both sons eventually become pachinko house managers.

As time goes on, with each generation trying for a better life than their parents, the world changes but prejudicial attitudes seem to remain.  The last hope for equality among peers seems to be with Soloman, Sunja’s grandson, an American educated banker who has a promising career with a Japanese bank.  But not all is as it seems.   Sadly yet hopefully, Min Jin Lee ends the saga, true to her words:

“…life’s going to keep pushing you around, but you have to keep playing…”

The author successfully reveals the complicated state of Koreans in Japan, covering difficult topics from the yakuza, immigration, and real estate deals to personal views of expatriate life, religion, and, of course, the pachinko industry.    A book of substance and introspection, Pachinko is a story worth reading and discussing; this reader will never make the mistake of forgetting the history and individualism of Asians.