Oh good – I needed something lighter weight and this is turning out to be that. Plus it concerns Korean cultural with a bit of history thrown in- I’ve long been interested in Korea, both North and South, and it’s history and changes.
This book starts in Part 1, 1910 to 1933, and going to Part 3, 1962 to 1989, covering more than three generations of a Korean family. I’m glad I got hooked into the setting and the characters before I saw that the plot was rather typical although with its own little twists – life is like a pachinko game?. (A literary prize-winner this is not, but that’s fine with me right now.)
by Min Jin Lee
2017 / 490 pages
read by Allison Hiroto – 18h 16m)
rating – 8.25
(read and listened)
Book 1 deals with how a lower middle class family in what is now South Korea gets together with the only son having a serious physical disability marrying a very poor woman and they have a single surviving daughter, Sunja. This is about 1910. The husband dies so mother and daughter find it necessary to run a boarding house for fishermen.
A very young woman named Sunja is the subject of the rest of the Book 1 where she gets pregnant by her wealthy but married lover. Her story continues off and on through the entire book during which time she finds herself a Korean living in Japan for whatever that entails (no spoilers…) But although she’s plain and unassuming, Sunja is a marvelously strong woman in many ways and this is actually the story of her family.
The plot twists concern money and propriety far more than sex/romance or “action” although there is some of the former, never anywhere near enough to make the book into a romance. There is a certain amount of history involved but not all that much. The family saga relationships are developed nicely throughout and finally climaxes.
As the book goes on time also moves – Book 2 includes World War II and its aftermath and the effects on the Korean community. There is a lot of setting and socio-cultural and historical information which is fascinating, especially starting at about half way when Kim Il Sung takes over in North Korea and the world opens up to Sunja and her children.
I suppose the major theme is the question of what is moral behavior and what is not. The Christian family has high standards but are torn about what is proper.
Book 3 opens in 1968 and continues to the very late 1980s with the children and grandchildren of Sunya.
Themes include historical and serious Japanese discrimination against Koreans and the oppression of women, the presence of con men and mafia types and Christianity (NOT a religious book!) . The women are naturally oppressed almost without knowing it and the social requirements are stiff on men, too. (Expectations of honorable women are very very high for Koreans but also for the Japanese. )
It’s a really good book for just enjoying. It’s well enough written with excellent character development, nice little plot twists, nothing too romantic or violent, and generally engrossing.
And see Sue Terry’s marvelous review at: