Earlier this year, my book club (yes, I am in a book club, very sophisticated) nominated Pachinko by Min Jin Lee as our next book.
I was looking forward to reading it. As a sheltered American who hasn’t read any books by Korean or Korean American authors, I was looking forward to broadening my horizons a bit. But I was knee deep into IQ84 and didn’t come up for air until May. And then I needed a breather. So my mom recommended A Light Between Two Oceans, and after that Australian sob fest, I needed something to take my mind off of sadness and orphans and conflicted relationships and death. So I started Pachinko.
Seriously? 90% of my reading time is on the bus to and from work. And the book made me so emotional that I cried while reading it at least three times, making that 3 times where I got concerned looks from people sitting by me or standing near me. When I finished it on my lunch break, I came back to my desk and tried to tell my coworker how it ended and very nearly went into a crying jag. Granted, 5 weeks of PMS didn’t help – but wow, did this book hit me on a gut level.
It’s the story of four generations of a hard working Korean family, who over time become displaced by war, reunite, and find themselves alienated in post WWII Japan. They become a family without a country, trying to find their place and keep their history and culture alive. It’s emotional and moving, and made me want to call my mom and tell her I love her.
Min Jin Lee did what every good author should do – she transported me to a different place and time. I’m not a mother, I’m not Korean, I’ve never experienced war, and I’ve only been to Tokyo as a spoiled tourist. And yet, as I was reading, I felt like Sunja, the selfless and tireless mother doing whatever she could to keep her family together. It was brilliant.
Another great thing the book did was, it made me write more. The more I read, the more I wanted to work on my own shit. Which hasn’t happened in about, say, a decade or something. I was on fire, and I’m pretty sure it’s because I was inspired by her.
So when my book club discovered that the Sydney Writers Festival was hosting Min Jin Lee was for a reading/q+a and signing for Pachinko and Free Food for Millionaires, we rallied together and scored tickets.
She spoke about her experiences growing up in Queens as the child of immigrants, gun violence in America, and what she learned and went through while writing her books. She was frank and funny, charming and awkward. At one point, she said, “I have an agenda – I want to make you all Korean.” Everyone laughed and all I could think was, “SHE DID MAKE ME KOREAN!” I mean, as Korean as my corn-fed upper-lower-middle class American self could be.
She drove home her point that “History is kept by the readers.” It’s sharing our stories that keep us bound together, because we can relate to each other no matter where we’re from – through our stories. And that cuts me to my core – sharing stories and having someone say “Yes, I know what that’s like!” is what makes me want to write.
When it was my turn to have my book signed, I thanked her for sharing her books with us, and I told her that Pachinko helped me break my writer’s block. She asked how my writing was going, and I got all squee and told her “55 pages and counting! It’s the most I’ve done in about 9 years.” “Well that’s the best news I’ve heard all night. Keep going!” And I was just star struck and I think I mumbled “ok thank you” as I ran away, face beet red, sweat pouring out of every pore.
Yes, played it totally cool.
I forgot how much I love listening to writers talk about books and their process, the difficulties they face, and the shit they go through along the way. They pushed through, worked their asses off, and their reward? Sitting in front of a crowded room of people looking at them, thinking, “You made me feel something.”
It’s something I’ll have to remember the next time I choose Netflix over writing time.
So we all fan girled and it was a wonderful experience. We capped the evening off with dinner and more insightful conversation – like child rearing and sexual traumas and religion and how high waisted pants make everyone look 2 months pregnant when they sit down.
Like I said, we are very sophisticated.
Brb, off to read some more.