Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Readers will be swept up in this Korean family saga set in Busan, Korea and Osaka, Japan from the 1910s through the 1980s. Four generations struggle with supporting their family and keeping their ethnic identity as Koreans. Sunja grows up in a small boardinghouse catering to fishermen in a Korea occupied by Japan. Her father Hoonie dies when she is 13, so Sunja and her mother YanJin work hard. When Sunja gets pregnant, she learns that businessman Hansu is already married. Isak, a young pastor, ill with tuberculosis, is nursed back to health by YanJin in their boardinghouse, and agrees to marry Sunja. They move to Osaka and live with his brother Yoseb and Yoseb’s wife Kyunghee. Times are hard, Isak is imprisoned for a while, and Sunja and Kyunghee help support the family by selling kimchi and candy. Sunja and her sons Noa and Mozasu are occasionally helped by Hansu, alienating Noa when he learns learns the truth. Later the family does well financially, with Mozasu running several pachinko parlors and sending his son Solomon to university in the United States. Faith and family, love, luck, and loss are the themes running through the decades of this moving, character-driven novel.
The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake
An elegantly written first novel about ordinary people struggling to find their new normal after the war in 1947 Tokyo. This book is narrated by several people starting over, all connected by two school girls, Aya Shimamura and Fumi Tanaka. Fumi, whose father used to run a small bookshop, misses her older sister Sumiko, and wants Aya’s help in finding her. Sumiko is a dance hall girl, who has been bringing extra food and money home to the family. Aya is Japanese Canadian. She spent the war in a Canadian internment camp, and as her family is no longer welcome in Vancouver, they’ve returned to Japan. Their teacher Kondo moonlights as a letter writer for young Japanese women trying to stay in contact with their American GI boyfriends. Matt Matsumoto, Japanese American, is working with the American Army of Occupation, where he translates letters sent to General MacArthur. Aya and Fumi get lost one night, and Aya’s father asks Kondo to help find them. The author is a Japanese Canadian librarian, and she was inspired by a book of actual letters sent to General MacArthur by the Japanese people. Appealing characters, a truly unique setting, and a poignant, heartwarming plot made me sorry to finish this book.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
A highly imaginative, page-turning first novel, set mostly in Victorian London and partly in imperial Japan. Former pianist Thaniel Steepleton helps support his widowed sister by working as a telegraph operator for the Home Office. A bomb threat is received, and Thaniel finds that his flat was broken into. Nothing was taken, but a pocket watch was left. After an alarm on the watch saves his life during an explosion, Thaniel seeks out the watchmaker, the mysterious Keita Mori. Mori is a Japanese nobleman who is a genius with clockwork, and who can sometimes “remember” the future. He even has a clockwork pet, an octopus. Scotland Yard suspects Mori of making a bomb, and Grace Carrow thinks he is probably guilty. Grace is a physics student who needs to marry in order to inherit her aunt’s house, where she can set up a lab. Victorian London is vividly described, including a diplomatic party, a Gilbert and Sullivan performance, and a Japanese exhibition village in Knightsbridge. With plenty of suspense and intrigue along with an unpredictable plot, this is an impressive, original debut.
An enjoyable adventure for fans of Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes. This book, while it’s the 13th to feature Russell and Holmes, can be enjoyed after reading the first book, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. In 1924, they are on a cruise ship traveling from India to Japan. Holmes and Russell enjoy a leisurely cruise, despite Mary’s seasickness, and Holmes tries to determine if Lord Darley, traveling with his new wife and his grown son, is a blackmailer. Neither Russell nor Holmes has visited Japan, and they learn about Japanese customs and some of the language together after Mary befriends American educated Haruki Sato, the daughter of an acrobat. Haruki is more than she appears to be, and sets the couple a challenge once they reach Japan. Japan in the 1920s is a unique setting, which I very much enjoyed. The emperor’s son needs a large favor, which appears to be solved in dramatic fashion at a dinner party. However, a year later in Oxford, England, Haruki reappears and the adventure continues. This is one of the more enjoyable books I’ve read in a while, although the mystery is not the strongest element in the book.