by Min Jin Lee


West Maui Book Club "Pachinko" Discussion Questions

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Any page or location numbers refer to the Paperback edition.


1. Open the discussion with Carolyn Kennedy’s “Remarks From Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival," where she writes: Just as Japan can be unwelcoming to foreigners, Pachinko has lessons for America too—particularly as we debate our history and contemporary attitudes towards immigration. Discuss our country's position to immigrants. How is the US similar or different?

3. None of Hoonie’s and Yangin’s offspring return Korea to see for themselves what they’d been told about the poverty, starvation, and death. They received no news, except by word of mouth and on authority. Why, then, do you think they preferred to stay in Japan under social and political discrimination, hardship, and ostracism? Was that better or worse for them?

4. Sunja sells her watch to repay Yoseb’s debt when two men come to her door with a signed contract. (131) Why did she believe them? Why didn’t she consider the possibility that the contract was a fake with a forged signature? What does it say about her fear of these men and her position in the household as it relates to her brother in law? What does this say about the intimidation of Korean female family members?

5. Christians and Koreans were persecuted in Japan (156). But with Isak being both, he was taken away, his church and congregation were disbanded, and the family was never allowed visitation. They eventually thought he might have died while in prison. We know how Sunja, Noa, and Mozasu fared, but what do you think it was like for Isak?

6. The Japanese and Korean perspective on American as invading rapists (200) kept them vigilant with a stash of bamboo speaks and knives. (216) -- …”Americans kill indiscriminately so everyone must flee at the sight of any American soldiers. Death at your own hands was preferable to capture.” What do you make of this perception of America? How is it different during any past or foreseeable war by us with other countries? For instance, during the following wars: Iraq, Iran, Russia, Pakistan, China, N. Vietnam, or N. Korea?

7. The work ethics of the Japanese and Koreans are similar (pg 220) with the exception of the Koreans stubbornness being quieter and harder to detect. Discuss the reasons given in this novel why this might be the case.

8. What did Noa’s suicide represent if, in fact, it was more than his “Korean” embarrassment after his mother reappearance?

9. Why do you think the novel was titled "Pachinko?" Do you think it might relate to the passage that states: Mozasu believed that life was like this game where the plyer could adjust the dials yet lso expect the undertainitly of factors he couldn't control. He understood why his customers wanted to ply something that looked fixed but which also left froom for randomenss and hope.

10. Words to ponder: Aristotelian anagnorisis and peripeteia (278), zainichi, Chongryon, and Mindan organization (229), burakumin/Korean (241), zenophobia - Merriam-Webster definition: fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.

Discussion Questions
By LitLovers

We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to start a discussion for Pachinko...then take off on your own:

1. The novel's opening sentence reads, "History has failed us, but no matter." What does the sentence mean, and what expectations might it establish for the reader? Why the tailend of the sentence, "but no matter"?

2. Talk about the thematic significance of the book's title. Pachinko is a sort of slot/pinball game played throughout Japan, and its arcades are also a way for foreigners to find work and accumulate money.

3. What are the cultural differences between Korea and Japan?

4. As "Zainichi," non-Japanese, how are Koreans treated in Japan? What rules must they adhere to, and what restrictions apply to them?

5. Follow-up to Questions 3 and 4: Discuss the theme of belonging, which is pervades this novel. How does where one "belongs" tie into self-identity? Consider Mozasu and his son, Solomon. In what ways are their experiences similar when it comes to national identity? How do both of them feel toward the Japanese?

6. How is World War II viewed in this novel—especially from the perspective of the various characters living in Japan? Has reading about the war through their eyes altered your own understanding of the war?

7. How would you describe Sunja and Isak. How do their differing innate talents complement one another and enable them to survive in Japan?

8. Are there particular characters you were drawn to more than others, perhaps even those who are morally compromised? If so who...and why?

West Maui Book Club discussion questions compiled by:
Elaine Gallant
West Maui Book Club
April, 2018