Lee Min-jin examines tragedy of Koreans in early 20th century
After author Park Wan-suh passed away in 2011, people worried that they would not be able to read new novels with such vivid scenes involving Koreans of the early and mid-20th century.
They were plain wrong because writer Lee Min-jin, a 53-year-old woman who immigrated to the United States in the 1970s, came out of nowhere in 2017 with the much-touted epic historical novel dubbed “Pachinko.”
It indeed delves into a Korean family who immigrated to Japan in the early 1930s to experience great difficulties, including discrimination and stereotyping.
The character-driven fiction adeptly touches on such thorny issues as the Japanese colonization of Korea, comfort women, nuclear weapons, and the Korean War.
It even shows the sentiments of the Japanese citizens in the colonial era, who erroneously but sincerely believed in the superiority of its ethnicity and social Darwinism.
Topping other things off, however, the novel is about Korean people who went through the difficulties of the 20th century, especially in Japan.
“There are many ethnic Koreans who are now Japanese citizens, although this option to naturalize is not an easy one. There are also many who have intermarried with the Japanese or who have partial Korean heritage,” she writes.
“Sadly, there is a long and troubled history of legal and social discrimination against the Koreans in Japan and those who have partial ethnic Korean backgrounds. There are some who never disclose their Korean heritage, although their ethnic identity may be traced to their identification papers and government records.”
The novel, which was a 2017 finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction, was adapted into a TV series that first premiered early this year to gain great popularity.
The eight-episode TV drama was based on the novel, but the two are different in many aspects. As is always, the novel appears to be much better than the TV series.