Min Jin Lee’s novel captures the pain and grace of the Korean Japanese.

Why Did the Stories of the Korean Japanese Elude Novelists Until This Year?

Why Did the Stories of the Korean Japanese Elude Novelists Until This Year?

A daily news and culture podcast with Mike Pesca.
Nov. 30 2017 7:42 PM

Life Is Like Pachinko

It’s a popular game of chance in Korea. It’s also a metaphor for the Korean Japanese experience in Min Jin Lee’s swoonworthy novel.

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Min Jin Lee at the National Book Awards on Nov. 15 in New York City.

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

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There hadn’t been an English-language novel about ethnic Koreans living in Japan until this year’s Pachinko. Author Min Jin Lee chalks it up to the complicated history of the Korean Japanese. They were colonized by Japan, they were forced or compelled to migrate, and they were targets of anti-Korean discrimination. But Lee was surprised to find that many Korean Japanese don’t see themselves as victims of racism. “They would actually see it as, culturally, their norm,” says Lee. “I think it’s very hurtful to think that you’re hated all the time, so you have to think of the story that you can live with.”

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Mike Pesca is the host of the Slate daily podcast The Gist. He also contributes reports and commentary to NPR.