REVIEW: The Pachinko Parlour

Here it is, my first read of the year – The Pachinko Parlour written by Elisa Shua Dusapin, translated from the original French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins and published in English in 2022.

It’s a compact novel, running to 171 pages and so was a quick read for my first of 2023.

Elisa Shua Dusapin is a French/Korean writer, brought up in Paris, Seoul and Switzerland. Her debut novel Winter in Sokcho won the US National Book Award for Translated Literature, the Prix Robert Walser and the Prix Regine-Deforges. The Pachinko Parlour was awarded the Swiss Literature Prize.

Our protagonist is Claire, a 29-year-old Swiss/Korean who spends the summer in Tokyo tutoring 10-year-old Mieko in French and trying to organise a trip to South Korea for her elderly grandparents who have not returned to their homeland since they fled to Japan before the Korean War.

Claire’s grandparents own and run one of many pachinko parlours in a Korean area of Tokyo, pachinko being like a cross between a pinball machine and a slot machine that is a multi-billion pound business in Japan with about 80% of parlours being owned by ethnic Koreans.

This is a quiet, subtle, understated book in which you must look as much at the spaces in between as at the words themselves.

The relationships between Claire and her grandparents, Claire and Mieko and her mother and that of Claire’s grandparents are beautifully explored, particularly as Claire’s grandmother descends into what appears to be dementia.

It is a touching and melancholy book that examines relationships, cultural identity and a feeling of being disconnected.

Don’t expect a dramatic plot or a page turner, but this small novel really draws you into its pages.

You may, like I did, read the final page and think: “What happened there?” and then realise you have been left with such empathy for the characters that you want to read it again.

Now I think I should get hold of Winter in Sokcho and also her 2020 novel Vladivostok Circus.

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