Pachinko by Min Jin Lee was a National Book Award finalist in 2017, and hailed one of the best books of that year by many outlets, including Book Riot! Now that it’s available in paperback, it’s a popular book club pick for readers who love multi-generational stories, historical fiction, and world literature. If your group has picked Pachinko to discuss, but you’re running short on Pachinko book club questions, never fear! We’ve rounded up a list of questions that touch on Pachinko‘s theme, cast of characters, and the enduring popularity of the novel! Pick and choose from the list of questions, and see where the group discussion takes you!
Lee begins the book with the line “History has failed us, but no matter.” Do you believe that the narrator really thinks it is “no matter”? Why do you think Lee chose that opening line?
Share a favorite quote from Pachinko. Why did this quote stand out to you?
Which characters did you like best? Which characters did you identify the most with?
Early on in the novel, Sunja is made to feel shame for her pregnancy. How does the idea of shame persist throughout the novel, both in sense of morals and identity?
Compare and contrast the characters of Hansu and Isak. Which was the better father? The better provider? The better man? Do you believe that Hansu ultimately redeems himself? Is he deserving of forgiveness?
Another theme of the novel is bravery. What kinds of bravery does each character exhibit? How does a character’s bravery (or lack of bravery) shape the family’s story?
The definition and meaning of home is another theme to Pachinko. Lee prefaces to novel with the Charles Dickens quote, “Home, is a name, is a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit answered to, in strongest conjuration.” Why do you believe that Lee chose this epigraph? Do you think it is easily applicable to the novel? How does the concept of home, and belonging, evolve throughout the story?
The family goes through so much when they immigrate to Japan, and endure WWII. Their lives after are WWII also full of hardship, but a different kind. Did this trajectory seem realistic to you? In what ways were the family’s lives better and worse after WWII?
Discuss how the family’s relationships evolve across the generations. Do the parent-child relationship ships differ? The husband-wife relationships? The ones between siblings? Compare and contrast them.
The concept of cultural and racial identity is very important to the characters of the novel. Sunja and her family strive to be perceived as “good Koreans,” and “good Japanese” are hard to find. Discuss these concepts of identity and “goodness” that is attributed to identity. Do you think they are unfair standards? How do the perceptions change throughout the novel?
Pachinko covers a long span of time, and is a rather lengthy novel. What did you think of the book’s length? If it’s too long, what would you have cut?
Considering the length, is the book’s pace too fast, too slow, or just right?
What do you think of the title? Pachinko, the game, doesn’t come up until we are well into the story, but its significance becomes important in the second half of the novel. Do you think that it’s an apt title for the book? Would you have chosen something different? If so, what?
Before reading this book, were you aware of the tensions between Koreans and Japanese in the early 20th century? Did you learn something about history through reading this story? Did you learn anything about Korean identity in this novel?
The novel began with “History has failed us, but no matter.” To what extent do you believe this novel is Lee’s attempt at telling the stories pushed to the margins of history? By the end of the book, do you think she’s succeeded?
What did you think of the ending of the novel? Did you find it tragic, or just right? If you could have changed anything about the ending, what would it be?
In many ways, Pachinko is about how one person’s actions can have a profound effect on family: Sunja becoming pregnant by Hansu, and Hansu abandoning her. Do you feel as though your life is largely shaped by your parents’ or ancestor’s decisions? Or do you believe that each person in each generation has autonomy to make their own choices?
Have you read Min Jin Lee’s first novel, Free Food for Millionaires? How did it compare to Pachinko?
Would you read another novel by this author, either Free Food for Millionaires or a future release? Why or why not?
If you got the chance to ask Lee one question, what would it be?
Do you want to find more book club suggestions? Check out our list of the best book club suggestions of 2019!
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