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“History has failed us, but no matter”—the opening line of Min Jin Lee’s 2017 novel, Pachinko, hints at the types of characters it centers on: not the movers and shakers of history but the ordinary people who find it difficult to steer their own course against history and survive its knock-on effects. Pachinko narrates a Dickensian story that spans generations of a family of Koreans in Japan—commonly referred to as Zainichi—from the Japanese colonization of Korea to Japan’s bubble economy. The novel’s title refers to a combined pinball-like arcade game where winning mainly rests on luck. This paper analyzes how pachinko becomes a central metaphor in the novel for the Zainichi’s search for identity and quest for belonging, and shows how the work poses a “winning combination” that resolves these issues. The paper is divided into four parts. The first discusses the history of the Zainichi, who are part of the larger Korean diaspora. The second gives a brief history and description of Zainichi literature, and the last two sections summarize the novel and analyze the intergenerational search for Zainichi identity, focusing on the contrast between the work’s gambling metaphor and the teleological thrust of its Biblical characters.


Nicole R. Tablizo (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) is pursuing a master’s degree in comparative literature in the University of the Philippines and writing a thesis on publishing translations of Indonesian literature. She currently works at a news agency for the global development community.

Article Information

Type of Manuscript: Article
Volume, Issue, Year: Volume 58, Issue 1, Year 2022
Pages: 99–128

Back to Asian Studies 58 (1): 2022