I’m pretty fed up. I was sickening for something down in London, and once I got home, The Virus took a grip. Goodness it’s malevolent: and it’s not letting go. The only consolation is that I’ve got through an astonishing number of books, including Min Jin Lee‘s Korean family saga Pachinko.
This is the story of several generations of one Korean family with roots near Busan, who emigrate to make a new life in Japan following the repressive occupation of their own country by the Japanese from 1911. It’s a compelling family saga taking us from 1911 to 1989; from poverty to economic stability, with sacrifice and hardship as constant themes.
How could I not be interested, since Emily’s just returned home to Spain from a year in Busan? And yet the world in which the book begins is not one she or we would recognise. A time traveller from 1911 or 1930 London, Liverpool or Leeds would find a lot that’s familiar in those same cities today. A time traveller from Busan? Not a chance.
The story starts in Yeongdo, which is now part of Busan, but was in 1930 a fishing village on an island set apart from the mainland.
‘…..the market ajummas squatting beside spice-filled basins, deep rows of glittering cutlass fish, or plump sea bream caught hours earlier – their wares arrayed attractively on turquoise and red waxed cloths spread on the ground. The vast market for seafood – one of the largest of its kind in Korea – stretched across the rocky beach carpeted with pebbles and broken bits of stone, and the ajummas hawked as loudly as they could, each from her square patch of tarp.’
Well, I doubt if the market is still there – it certainly won’t be on the beach. Instead, the immense Jagalchi fish market is on the nearby mainland, together with ajummas, certainly, but these days it’s all plate-glass buildings and the ephemera of modern port life.
As for Yeongdo. No longer is it an island fishing settlement, with small wooden houses surrounded by productive vegetable patches. I can’t find any pictures, so instead must rely on Min Jin Lee’s word pictures of empty beaches, densely wooded hillsides rich in edible fungi. Those hillsides still exist – but look down over the settlements and the docksides below. And Yeongdo is linked to the mainland by a bridge. Sunji and her family wouldn’t recognise a thing.
Apart from my photo of an ajumma selling fish, all other images are from Wikimedia Commons