Updated: Nov 15, 2019
Hi, everyone. My name is Katie, and each week I’m going to give you my totally unbiased perspective of a book I didn’t read based on an interview I had with a Friends of the Library volunteer. Although the books discussed are very real and definitely read by my interviewees, they are most certainly not read by me.
For this interview, I spoke to a bookstore employee named Leonard Lunchmeat.* Leonard specifically requested I use this name, so I had no choice. When I first mentioned the interview to him, he said, “I don’t know what to say,” assuming he would have to give me a dense, ten-minute monologue about the book unprompted by questions or outside aid. I then responded, “You understand I’ll be asking questions, right?” To me, this was like going into a Michelin star restaurant, and upon the waitress asking for your order, saying, “I don’t know how to cook the food.” Alas, he agreed to do the interview after I ensured I would provide him with questions–a “recipe” if you will.
(Sentences and words in bold type are my own commentary. I hope you find it as amusing and disruptive as it was intended to be.)
*name was changed in order to salvage employee’s dignity
The name of this week’s book is “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee.
Me: So what book are we talking about today?
Me: And do we know who it’s by?
Leonard: Min. Lin. Lee.
The periods emphasize how slowly and carefully he pronounced the author’s name.
Me: You just Googled that? (He was looking at his phone).
Leonard: No, I didn’t. I have a list of my books here.
Me: Interesting. What other information is on that list?
Leonard: When I read them.
Me: Anything suspicious–any other fun details on there?
Me: So, what’s this book about? If you had to describe it in one sentence, what would you say?
Leonard: It’s about a Korean family line and their story, which starts before World War II and carries through to about the 1980s.
Me: And how does the story progress?
Leonard: The general story is about the struggles of the Koreans–because they were pretty much a colony of Japan and were looked down upon by them–and specifically one Korean family through the generations. However, even with this, [the Korean family] was able to improve themselves over the decades; they became prosperous.
Me: Who are the central characters in the story?
Leonard: The central characters changed from generation, but it started out with a young man [named Baek Isak] who was born with deformities and a young girl [named Sunja Baek] who cared for him when he came [from the big city of Pyongyang] to stay in her mother’s boarding house. She saw his redeeming qualities and began to care for him–he was a very hard worker and a good man.
At this point, the interview was interrupted by a cat mom expressing concern over her cone-wearing cat who was falling over himself because he couldn’t see.
Me: And what was the conflict there?
Full disclosure–this interview was with my dad, and the cat mom was...my mom.
Leonard: [Sunja] had a rendez vous with a controversial business man [named Koh Hansu (who had his own family)] who visited her at the market, and she became pregnant.
Me: And she was unmarried at this point?
Leonard: Yes. Especially shameful for the time period. And they really lived in poverty, where rice was only for weddings and chicken was maybe once a month, and now [Sunja] had this shame child, but [Isak], the sick and deformed boarder, agreed to marry her anyway. [Koh Hansu] had wanted to take care of Sunja, but she refused because of who he was.
Me: So she almost of had a way out of this life through [Koh Hansu], but she didn’t want to be associated with the dirty businessman.
A regular romantic comedy.
Me: Where does the significance of the title come in. What’s pachinko?
Leonard: Pachinko was a game of chance. A pachinko machine gave you a very random chance of winning–your chances of coming out on top were very small.
Me: Sounds like gambling.
Leonard: It’s gambling. And the Japanese felt it was beneath them, so the Koreans saw it as an opportunity and took advantage of it, and many prospered because of it. However, a lot of it was operated through organized crime–except some of the owners in this particular family were honorable, so they made a little less money.
At this point the poor cat was trying to clean himself while wearing a cone. This was definitely relevant to our interview.
Me: Take me through the story. Sounds like [Sunja] had her kid, and I assume her child also had children, otherwise there wouldn’t be an intergenerational story here.
Leonard: [Sunja] had two kids, and one of them did not like school (Mozasu), so he got a job working for the owner of a Pachinko parlor, and after doing this for many years, he got his own parlor and became very financially successful. But he was still looked down upon, even though he provided for his family.
Me: And what about the other brother? Was he different?
Leonard: He had a brother who was very academically oriented, an idealist, and yet
he ended up in the Pachinko business after he ran away from his family to settle in a Japanese city.
Me: Was he ashamed of being Korean?
Leonard: Yes, but more because he found out who his real father was, the Pachinko thug, [Koh Hansu]. He did not want to be contacted by his family ever again.
At this point I began to wonder if my real father was also a Pachinko salon-owning thug. I looked deep into my dad’s eyes and thought. I then looked over to the cat and wonder if he too was caught up in suspicious dealings.
Leonard: His real father was basically a gangster, and the son, [Noa], was a love child. So [Noa] just wanted to escape and make a dignified life in Japan...as a
Japanese man, which he was not.
Me: And how did he do in Japan?
Leonard: He had a wife and kids, and everyone thought he was Japanese because his name didn’t give him away. He felt he could finally fit in and live his life. But years later, when his mom [Sunja] finally located him (with the help of his gangster daddy Koh Hansu, who really just wanted to be there for his son), [Noa] was so ashamed that he did something really drastic and tragic.
We’ll save...some...of the plot for the readers.
Leonard: So it had a happy ending.
Jokes from Dad.
Me: Right. Any other major plot lines you want to address?
Leonard: Honestly, there’s so many details...but [Noa’s] brother (Mozasu), who was very successful with his Pachinko businesses, had sent his son to America for a great education, to become a worldly man, and guess where he ends up?
Leonard: Pachinko. And it’s sad because, even though [Mozasu] was very successful
and made a nice life and was able to take care of his family in one way, in another, there was so much tragedy and stuckness.
Me: Is that what you feel about me as well?
Me: Jokes! Any happy endings?
Leonard: I probably shouldn’t say.
My mom: (Shouting from the kitchen) What a depressing book!
It seems like the cat enjoyed it, though.
Me: That sounds best. So it sounds like, in the end, all everyone wanted was to be accepted, and they each suffered with their own gains and losses as they tried to make that happen under very difficult circumstances.
Me: And that’s...life.
Leonard: What, are you giving me advice?
I bet he wanted to say, “do you know how old I am?”
Leonard: Ya know, it was a great book, but it was sad. Geez, I wish I remembered more about it.
Me: That’s why you have me and the Google, Dad. Anyway, if you could compare this book to a great comedy of our time, what would that be?
Leonard: Hmmm…”Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.”
Me: Perfect. Any books on the horizon or that you’re already reading?
Leonard: I am reading “Becoming,” Michelle Obama’s book.
Me: Very similar to Pachinko.
Leonard: Exactly the same thing. In fact, very few people know Pachinko is actually about her.
Leonard: She secretly owns a Pachinko parlor.
Me: I think we’re done here.
Leonard: [continues to make unnecessary comments]
I left the room.