Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 275
Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee, takes its title from the popular Japanese game of chance and skill. The game is a bit like pinball, and the goal is to launch a ball at the right time so that it lands in a catcher bin inside of the machine. You have to spend money on the balls, and if you win, token balls are spit out of the pachinko machine that you can exchange for prizes. This fits into one of the major themes of the book, which is luck versus having the odds stacked against you.
The main character, Sunja, is trying to make her way as a Korean in a foreign country that looks down on her, namely Japan. On the surface, it seems like she should be able to find friends and a place to fit in when she lands in the new country with her pastor husband. The problem is that she’s living in Japan as a Korean woman in the early part of the twentieth century, and many Japanese people at the time dismissed Koreans out of hand as inferior.
So, the story is thematically similar to a game of pachinko. It seems like you should be able to just put a ball in at the right time and win easily. But, of course, the game establishment has to make money, so the odds are stacked against you. The machine manipulates the outcome to a high degree, making it more likely that you will lose each time. It’s a trick.
This encapsulates the major theme of Pachinko, namely the trick of societies that work against minorities behind the scenes.