Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction

Mini-reviews: Pachinko + The Vanishing Half

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Today, I really wanted to focus on two books that straddled the distinction between historical fiction and literary fiction. Both Pachinko and The Vanishing Half are written by authors of colour, and had been on my TBR for ages. I’m just glad my readathons gave me the opportunity to finally read them!

Pachinko will be counted towards the Trope-ical Readathon, hosted by Jenny @ Jenny’s Review Blog. The Vanishing Half will be counting towards the Diversify That Shelf readathon hosted by Noura @ The Perks of Being Noura.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: Insightful and Thought-Provoking

Pachinko book cover

Pachinko

by Min Jin Lee

Published January 7, 2017 by Grand Central Publishing
ISBN: 1455563927

Data from Goodreads

In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant–and that her lover is married–she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son’s powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.

Richly told and profoundly moving, Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty. From bustling street markets to the halls of Japan’s finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, Lee’s complex and passionate characters–strong, stubborn women, devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis–survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history.

This isn’t my usual go-to genre, but I cannot stress enough the importance of this book. As someone who is not well-versed in the history between Japan and Korea, I was fascinated to learn about how the Japanese colonization of Korea completely rocked the foundations of Korean people. Through various characters (with Sunja being the main one), we read about the hardships and discrimination that Koreans face at every turn, as they strive to survive in Japan. The novel is grim, forcing readers to face the reality that many Koreans actually had to live through, and it explores themes of family, culture, and identity beautifully. My only criticism is that the story lost its focus closer to the end, and the ending itself was abrupt. However, that doesn’t detract from the value of this story as it explores an often-ignored part of East-Asian history. I would strongly urge people to give this book a go – it truly is a masterpiece in its own right.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: Memorable and Powerful

The Vanishing Half book cover

The Vanishing Half

by Brit Bennett

Published June 2nd 2020by Riverhead Books
ISBN: 0349701466

Data from Goodreads

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?

This novel brought a completely different perspective on what it means to be Black to the table. The Vanishing Half is a story about family as well as racial identity. The novel speaks at length about racial segregation, both within and outside of the Black community. Both sisters take completely different views on what it means to be Black, and assume different identities that change the course of their lives – and we get to see both sides, as the novel shares with us various perspectives. Every character we are introduced to is nuanced and memorable, constantly changing, and developing as time goes on. I was completely caught up in the lives of the Vignes family and mesmerized by the beautiful prose. I am so glad I picked up this book and would definitely recommend it to those looking for a thought-provoking read!

While I don’t usually read literary fiction, I was intrigued by the historical background of both of these books – and I do not regret reading either one of these novels. Both broadened my world view and left a lasting impression on me. I can only hope more people read these two novels and enjoy it as much as I did!

Have you read either of these books? Do you want to?

What is your favourite thought-provoking book?

Let me know in the comments!

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