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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



The Pachinko Parlor

by
Elisa Shua Dusapin


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Pachinko Parlor



Title: The Pachinko Parlor
Author: Elisa Shua Dusapin
Genre: Novel
Written: 2018 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 164 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Pachinko Parlor - US
The Pachinko Parlour - UK
The Pachinko Parlor - Canada
Les billes du Pachinko - Canada
Les billes du Pachinko - France
Die Pachinko-Kugeln - Deutschland
Le biglie del Pachinko - Italia
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Open Letter (US) and Daunt Books (UK)
  • French title: Les billes du Pachinko
  • Translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins

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Our Assessment:

B+ : effectively presented

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 18/8/2022 Madeleine Feeny
The NY Times Book Rev. . 4/12/2022 Lily Meyer


  From the Reviews:
  • "Dusapin assembles her themes: absence and abandonment, cultural history and identity, belonging and otherness, language and connection. (...) Fragmentation, recurring imagery and a flair for evoking atmosphere so effective that lassitude seems to seep through the pages recalls Deborah Levy’s writing. (...) (T)his is a masterclass in narrative control and subtlety, exemplified by the currents eddying beneath the surface of relationships and Claire’s dawning understanding of the scars left by her grandparents’ pasts. Dusapin is clearly an exceptional writer -- sharply focused, delicate == but she could shake things up next time." - Madeleine Feeny, The Guardian

  • "Despite its tumultuous opening, the novel is a slow, meditative portrait of one woman finding herself, as well as a moving reflection on language’s capacity to divide us from others -- and ourselves. (...) The Pachinko Parlor gets its power from emotion, not events. Its plot is minimal: Claire takes Mieko on outings, roams Tokyo and arranges to take her grandparents to Korea. Meanwhile, while Dusapin’s prose is spare, it is not minimal at all." - Lily Meyer, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Pachinko Parlor is narrated by Claire, a young woman who grew up and lives in Switzerland, visiting her aging grandparents in Tokyo. Her grandparents are Zainichi, having fled their native Korea during the war, in 1952; their life revolves entirely around the Shiny pachinko parlor the now-ninety-year-old grandfather owns and runs in the Nippori district. It's a business dominated by Zainichi -- and: "Everyone plays pachinko, but it's still disapproved of". Claire's big ambition for this visit is to travel with her grandparents to South Korea, which they haven't been to since they came to Japan -- but, when the novel begins, she still hasn't been able to make any firm travel plans.
       To keep busy during August, before the planned trip to South Korea, Claire answers an online ad and accepts a job as a tutor of a ten-year-old girl, Mieko, the daughter of a French teacher, Madame Ogawa. Mieko's father disappeared from their lives years earlier, and the two live -- as the only tenants -- in a former hotel that went bankrupt; Mieko's room is the drained hotel swimming pool .....
       Not all too much happens in The Pachinko Parlor. Claire is a distinctly part-time tutor, though she does take Mieko on some outings. Mieko would very much like to see the pachinko parlor, but Claire promises her disapproving mother she won't take her there; instead they go to Tokyo Disneyland and Heidi's Village. Claire's birthday is awkwardly celebrated. And, finally, Claire and her grandparents begin their trip.
       Claire is caught between languages. A great-grandmother who grew up in Japanese-occupied Korea: "sliced off her tongue so she wouldn't have to speak Japanese", while even though she identifies as Korean Japanese is the only language Claire truly shares with her grandparents:

I used to be able to speak Korean but I lost it when French became my main language. My grandfather used to correct my mistakes, but not anymore. We communicate in simple English, with a few basic words in Korean and an array of gestures and exaggerated facial expressions. We never speak Japanese.
       Meanwhile, her boyfriend, Mathieu, -- who was meant to accompany her on this trip but couldn't -- always speaks Japanese with her grandparents. Given Claire's appearance: "people think I'm Japanese. But I have never felt more foreign than I have this summer". Even her name is a reminder of her outsider-status, almost impossible for Japanese-speakers to pronounce, as she describes Mieko:
     She calls me sensei, teacher in Japanese. I tell her to call me by my name, Claire, but it's hard for her to say; she pronounces it Calairo, so I ask her to use the Korean for big sister, onni.
       And Madame Ogawa puts it bluntly, explaining why she wants Mieko to be fluent in French, so that she can keep up at a European school she'd like to send her to, but worried:
Perhaps she'd never be able to fit in. Like you, here. You'll never really be able to speak Japanese, will you ?
       An oppressive heatwave contributes to the atmosphere, as does the loneliness of the various characters, each dealing with it in their own way: mother and daughter Ogawa, Claire's grandmother who is becoming forgetful, even the workers at the pachinko parlor. The goal of taking her grandparents to South Korea is one of otherwise quite lethargic Claire's few ambitions, but she struggles to get the ball rolling; eventually, however she does -- even as it ultimately works out somewhat differently than she had planned.
       Claire -- and The Pachinko Parlor -- mostly just drift along -- effectively so. Claire is at sea, with no identity to anchor her. On previous trips to Japan she had support in the form of those accompanying her, her mother and then later Mathieu, but now she lacks that hold. (Mathieu still does provide a lifeline even at a distance, thanks to modern technology, but it's not the same.)
       It's neatly done -- a bit somber, but with enough lightness to the telling that it doesn't get too ponderously heavy. The hopeful conclusion, too, is a nice final turn, the novel as a whole basically a preamble -- heavy on the ambling -- leading up to that point (which Dusapin basically leaves as a (setting-off-)point), the novel closing, appropriately and very nicely with: "A clamor of languages merging gradually to become one", suggesting that Claire may finally be on the path to finding herself.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 February 2023

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Links:

The Pachinko Parlor: Reviews: Other books by Elisa Shua Dusapin under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French-writing author Elisa Shua Dusapin was born in 1992.

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© 2023 the complete review

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