2017 National Book Award Finalist, Fiction

Min Jin Lee

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee Min Jin Lee
(Grand Central Publishing / Hachette Book Group)

ISBN: 9781455563937

National Book Foundation: Why did you write this book?
Min Jin Lee: In 1989, I attended a college lecture featuring an American missionary who worked with the ethnic Korean population in Japan. He told a story about a 13 year-old Korean-Japanese boy who had been bullied by his Japanese classmates, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. After college, I went to law school, practiced law for two years then quit. From 1996-2003, I worked on one version of the book about the Korean-Japanese people, but it was no good. I moved to Japan in 2007, and I started a new version and worked on that one for nine years. I’ve wondered why I wanted to write this book, and I think it’s because I’m an American of Korean descent. As an immigrant child in a new land, I had been treated with far, far greater acceptance than that boy. I know we can do better.
Foundation: What’s your favorite bookstore or library?
Lee: The Elmhurst branch of the Queens Borough Public Library.

judges' citation

Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko expertly weaves a rich tapestry of a family grappling with class and cultural displacement into a masterpiece. Exquisitely drawn, Lee’s sprawling epic highlights the singular pain of searching for home while struggling to assimilate amid a backdrop of war and strife in both a unified Korea and Japan. Each character’s movement toward building a hopeful life is filled with the same twist of chance as the titular parlor game itself.


Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan.

So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.

About the Author

Min Jin Lee’s debut novel, Free Food for Millionaires, was one of the “Top 10 Novels of the Year” for the Times (London), NPR’s Fresh Air, and USA Today. Her short fiction has been featured on NPR’s Selected Shorts. Her writings have appeared in Condé Nast Traveler,Times (London), Vogue, Travel+Leisure, Wall Street Journal, New York Times Magazine, and Food & Wine. Her essays and literary criticism have been anthologized widely. She served as a columnist for the Chosun Ilbo, the leading paper of South Korea. She lives in New York with her family.


- WEBSITE: minjinlee.com

- TWITTER: @minjinlee11

- FACEBOOK: facebook.com/minjinleebooks

(Photo credit: Elena Seibert)


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