The Quick Recap and Section-by-Section Summary for Pachinko by Min Jin Lee are below. Spoiler warning: these summaries contains spoilers.
For a non-spoiler version of the plot synopsis, see The Bibliofile's review of Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.
Book I introduces an old fisherman and his wife who turn their small home in Yeongdo, Korea into a boarding house. Their only surviving son, Hoonie, is a cripple who marries a nice but impoverished girl, Yangjin. The young couple has a daughter, Sunja. Hoonie dies of tuberculosis when Sunja is 13. Afterwards, Yangjin keeps running the boarding house by herself for income. When Sunja is 16, she meets a fish salesman, Koh Hansu, who seduces her, and Sunja gets pregnant. Hansu is married with children and cannot marry her. He offers to take care of Sunja financially, but she wants nothing to do with him.
Meanwhile, a religious man comes to stay at the boarding house, Baek Isak, who has tuberculosis, and they nurse him back to health. When he is better, he asks Sunja to marry him after hearing about her unfortunate situation. Sunja and Isak move to Osaka, Japan, to live with Isak's brother and sister-in-law, Yoseb and Kyunghee. Isak becomes the assistant pastor at a church. One day, some debt collectors come demanding payment on a debt that Yoseb incurred when paying for the costs for Isak and Sunja to come to Osaka. Sunja sells a watch Hansu had given her to pay off the debt. Right after, her baby, Noa, is born.
In Book II, young Noa now how has a baby brother, Mozasu. However, Isak gets arrested for religious activities. Afterwards, Sunja starts selling kimchi to help make ends meet. Soon, Kim Changho, a restaurateur, offers to employ both Sunja and Kyunghee to make kimchi for his restaurants, for a generous salary. They accept. When Noa is 8, Isak is finally released from prison, weak and sick, but he dies soon after.
One day, Hansu shows up saying that Osaka will soon be bombed by the Americans and that Sunja needs to leave. He's been keeping tabs on her, and Kim works for him which is why they were offered the kimchi job. He brings the family to a farm where they will be safe, though Yoseb goes to Nagasaki for a new job. Hansu brings Yangjin to the farm as well. Yoseb is badly injured when Nagasaki is bombed.
After the war, the family moves back to Osaka and rebuilds their house larger with the money the farmer gave them. Kim also stays with them and continues to work for Hansu, who now is a gangster running a "protection" racket. As Noa grows up, he is studious and well behaved, while Mozasu doesn't like school and gets into trouble. Mozasu befriends a Japanese outcast, Haruki, whose mother is a seamstress. To keep him out of trouble, a neighbor who owns a pachinko parlor, Goro, hires Mozasu to work for him. Meanwhile, Noa gets into the prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo.
Against Yoseb's advice (he knows Hansu is a bad man), Sunja asks Hansu for the money for Noa's tuition, which Hansu readily pays in addition to room, board and an allowance. Noa meets a pretty girl at school, Akiko, and they date for a long time. (Meanwhile, Mozasu marries Yumi, a girl who works for Haruki's mother.) When Noa breaks up with Akiko, she angrily tells Noa it's obvious Hansu is his real father and that Hansu is clearly a Yakuza gangster which is how he affords all these things. Noa confronts Sunja, and is furious when she confirms it even though he wasn't a gangster when they met. Noa quits school and leaves to start a new life, not wanting to be found.
In Book III, Noa now works as an accountant at a pachinko parlor in Nagano, and everyone he knows thinks he's Japanese. He gets married and has kids. When Hansu finally tracks him down, Sunja goes to see him and Noa kills himself. Meanwhile, Haruki marries one of his mother's assistants, Ayume, although he is gay. One day, she sees him engaged in a sex act with a young man, but never says anything.
Mozasu owns his own pachinko parlor now and has a son, Solomon, but Yumi soon dies in a car accident. Hansu shows up at the funeral, but he still hasn't located Noa yet. Solomon is a cheerful boy who attends an expensive international school. Mozasu dates a woman who was previously divorced and has three kids. Her daughter, Hana, gets pregnant and stays with her mother for a while. Hana is 17, but she seduces 14-year-old Solomon and convinces him to give her money. She then runs away, leaving Solomon heartbroken. (She ends up becoming a sex worker and dying of AIDs.)
Solomon goes off to Columbia University and works at a bank in Japan afterwards. His Korean American girlfriend comes with him, but is unhappy there. When there's a complication at work, Solomon is fired. His girlfriend wants to move back, but Solomon realizes he is Japanese even if Japan sees Koreans as foreigners. Solomon decides to stay and join his father in the pachinko business, even if it is un-prestigious compared to banking. The book ends with Sunja visiting Isak's grave and learning that Noa visited the grave all the time, even while he was living in Nagano. Sunja buries a photo of Noa in the dirt at the gravesite.
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Book I: Gohyang/Hometown (1910–1933)
An old fisherman and his wife turn their small home into a boarding house in the fishing village of Yeongdo. They have three sons, but only Hoonie survives. Hoonie is the neighborhood cripple, but he is literate, strong and thoughtful.
In 1910, when Hoonie is 27, Japan annexes Korea. In 1911, Hoonie’s mother employs in a matchmaker for Hoonie. Because of the financial stability of the boarding house, the matchmaker is able to find him a healthy wife. Yangjin is a 15-year-old girl from an impoverished family. The two meet on their wedding day. Soon, Yangjin is pregnant, but the baby dies at seven weeks old. Hoonie’s parents pass away. After more births and deaths, only the fourth child survives, Sunja. Hoonie passes away from tuberculosis when Sunja is 13.
Chapters 2 – 4
In November 1932, Yangjin is now 37 and Japan has recently invaded Manchuria. Yangjin is resourceful and finds a way to make ends meet, even as the rent she pays rises. Yangjin serves food as her lodgers (three Chung brothers, two young fellows from Daegu, and a widower from Busan) chat about politics, hoping that the Chinese will teach the Japanese a lesson.
Baek Isak, a well-dressed traveler from Pyongyang, arrives at the boarding house and asks to stay for a few weeks. His brother, Baek Yoseb, had stayed there ten years ago and had greatly admired Hoonie. Isak and Yoseb’s parents were founders of a Christian church up north. Isak is headed to Osaka to find his brother. The next day, Yangjin and Jun the coal man, gossip about how Isak is a protestant minister. The next day, Isak’s tuberculosis, which he had two years ago, is back. He’s too weak to leave, so Yangjin arranges to separate him from the other boarders to prevent contagion.
Chapters 5 – 6
Sunja, now 16, is attractive and hardworking, but she is pregnant. Only her mother knows. Earlier that year, in June, Sunja had met new fish broker, Koh Hansu. He is well off and likes to try to talk to Sunja. One day, a group of boys tries to attack Sunja, but Hansu scares them off. After that, Sunja starts talking to him, and over the next three months he would tell her stories of his travels. One day, they go mushroom picking together and they have sex on the forest floor, and many times again later. Hansu goes to Japan for business, and when he returns, Sunja tells him about her pregnancy. Hansu then told her that he has a wife and children in Osaka. He offers to care for her financially, but Sunja feels misled and wants nothing to do with him. When she rejects him, he is cruel and she leaves.
Chapters 7 – 9
Isak slowly recovers from his bout of tuberculosis over a course of three months. After he writes to his brother in Osaka, he and Yangjin talk and she mentioned the situation with Sunja’s pregnancy which no one else knows about. The next day, Isak goes to see Pastor Shin because he’s considering asking Sunja to marry him. It would help Sunja to be able to give her child a name (which only men can provide). And in addition to repaying his gratitude for their care, it would also help him, too. Isak wants a wife and hasn’t wanted to subject any woman to the prospect of becoming an early widow (due to his troublesome health).
Afterwards, Isak tells Yangjin, who feels relief at the idea, and then he asks Sunja. He also asks her if she thinks she could love him, if she could love God and if she could try to forget the other man — all of which she says yes to.
Chapters 10 – 11
Isak, Yangjin and Sunja go to see Pastor Shin who talks to Sunja about her sins and then marries them, which only takes a few minutes. As a small luxury, Yangjin buys a small bag of rice so that Isak and Sunja can have a nice meal before they leave for Osaka. At home, Bokhee and Dokhee, the two servant girls, chat excitedly about the marriage and Sunja’s move to Osaka. The boarders offer Sunja a few yen as wedding gifts. Before Sunja leaves, she tells her mother the truth about Hansu. She has a gold watch from him, which Yangjin tells her to save it in case she needs to sell it some day. Yangjin also warns Sunja never to see Hansu again.
Chapters 12 – 14
In April 1933, Isak and Sunja travel to Osaka. Sunja marvels at the buildings, the Western-styled finery and the train. They go to Ikaino, the ghetto where the Koreans like Yoseb lives with his wife, Kyunghee. Kyunghee is beautiful and kind to Sunja. They live in a run-down shack, but Yoseb owns his house, unlike everyone else in the neighborhood. The Japanese refuse to rent nice houses to Koreans. Yoseb warns them to not be generous with the neighbors. Kyunghee previous gave them some food, but they kept coming back for more and finally broke into their house and stole their valuables. Yoseb further warns them not to get involved in politics or organizing of any kind because it risks them getting hauled off to jail. That night, Sunja and Isak sleep together for the first time, and Isak is tender and caring, unlike Hansu.
The next day, Isak goes to the Hanguk Presbyterian Church, led by Pastor Yoo, where he is to be the associate pastor. He meets Sexton Hu, a young Chinese man, as well. The salary, unfortunately, is only 15 yen a month, but Isak tells them he will find a way to get by.
At the church, there are two Korean siblings. The sister has been receiving monetary gifts from a Japanese manager at the factory where she works, in exchange for having dinner with him. She wants to help her parents and to put her brother through school. Pastor Yoo advises that it’s a bad idea and it’s a sin to sell herself in that fashion. He says the world will judge her, even if God forgives her, and that the man will likely start to expect more for her. He advises that she stop, even if it means her brother cannot continue his schooling.
Chapters 15 – 17
Kyunghee and Yoseb allow Sunja and Isak to live with them for free, and Sunja and Kyunghee get along very well. Kyunghee has a dream of selling her homemade kimchi and pickles at the market, but Yoseb disapproves of her working. One day, two men show up at their door demanding repayment of a debt that Yoseb has incurred. After ascertaining that the debt is legitimate (Yoseb borrowed money to pay for Sunja and Isak’s travel costs), Sunja sells her gold watch to pay it off, knowing that it’s better than to let the interest accumulate.
Later, Yoseb is furious that others will shame him for letting a woman pay off his debt. Isak argues that it’s really his debt since it was for him to travel. Yoseb and Isak are skeptical of how Sunja had such an expensive watch, and she lies and says that her mother gave it to her. Isak wonders if she really stole it. Meanwhile, baby Noa is born so there’s nothing left to do but forgive and move on.
Book II: Motherland (1939–1962)
Chapters 1 – 3
By 1939, Noa now has a younger 1-month-old brother, Mozasu. Yoseb goes to the church looking for his wife or brother when he’s told that Isak has been arrested. Sexton Hu was seen mouthing the Lord’s prayer instead of allegiance to the emperor of Japan. It resulted in Isak, Yoo and Hu being hauled off to jail. Yoseb finds Sunja and Kyunghee already at the police station, but they are not allowed to see him. The next day, the police come to confiscate some of Isak’s things and the church is padlocked.
With Isak in jail, Sunja knows they’ll need more income. At first Yoseb refuses, but he yields to their financial needs. Sunja starts selling kimchi at the market while Kyunghee helps to watch Mozasu at home. As Sunja gets more experienced at selling, but runs into challenges like occasionally not having any cabbage to make the kimchi.
In April 1940, Kim Changho, a restauranteur, comes by offering to buy all the kimchi they can make. He wants to employ them at 35 yen each (70 total) to make kimchi and he’ll supply the ingredients and kitchen. He’ll also let Sunja leave before Noa gets home and bring Mozasu to watch, just as long as the work gets done. Yoseb wants to say no, but he is working for 45 yen a month, half of what his Japanese counterparts make, and they need the money.
Chapters 4 – 5
In May 1942, Noa Baek is 8. He is better off than the other kids at his school, and he does well in his classes. Unlike his family, Noa does not believe in God because his father was taken away for no reason. One day, a gaunt and raggedy many shows up at their door, which turns out to be Isak. Noa runs to the restaurant to fetch Sunja. On seeing him, Sunja realizes that they’d never given him the food and clean clothing she’d been bringing him. Isak’s hair is white and his teeth are cracked or missing. Yoo and Hu both died the day before. Isak’s tuberculosis is back, and Sunja and Yoseb spend the night bathing and trying to clean the lice and mites off of him.
Chapters 6 – 7
In December 1944, Yoseb has become a sullen man since Isak’s death. The restaurant is shut down due to the military requisitioning all of the metal, including any pots, bowls or utensils.
Soon, Hansu shows up at Sunja’s door. He has been tracking her ever since she pawned the watch. Hansu’s wife is the daughter of a powerful moneylender. He owns the restaurant Sunja worked at and created the job for her when she needed money. Kim Changho works for him. He insists she and her family need to leave because they Americans will soon be bombing Osaka. Despite what the propaganda says, the Japanese are losing the war. Sunja cannot go back to Korea, because there is no food there. Hansu promises to check on Sunja’s mother, but there is a farmer Sunja can stay with and work for until the war is over. He tells Sunja to say that her boss, Kim, is the one who told her all of this.
That day, Yoseb happened to get a higher paying job in Nagasaki. So, Sunja, Kyunghee and the boys go to work for a sweet potato farmer named Tamaguchi, while Yoseb goes to Nagasaki. Tamaguchi and his wife Kyoko are glad to have two strong, hard-working women who are able to help out around the farm. Noa and Mozasu receive chores as well. Four months later, Hansu brings Yangjin to the farm, too. Kim stays there as well.
The war soon ends, but Yoseb is badly injured in the bombing of Nagasaki. Hansu brings him to the farm, with medicine to care for his wounds. As Yoseb lays dying, he asks Hansu if he’s Noa’s father, and Hansu admits it. Yoseb tells Hansu that they’ll repay him, but he wants Hansu to leave Noa alone and that they’re going to return to Korea. Hansu informs Yoseb that Pyongyang is controlled by the Russians, that there’s no food in Korea, that Yoseb’s Japanese company has no intention of ever paying him the wages he’s owed, and that the Japanese won’t be providing any assistance to the Koreans.
Finally, Hansu says that Yoseb’s parents in Korea were shot because all the landowners there were shot. This is a lie, because Hansu didn’t know exactly what had happened to them. However, Hansu didn’t want Sunja ending up in Pyongyang, because the northern, communist-controlled areas of Korea were a mess. Instead, he insists that Sunja go back to Osaka and put Noa in school so he can prepare for University.
Back in Osaka, Yoseb and Kyunghee use the money Tamaguchi gave them to buy a lot next to their old home, which (as Hansu predicted) was razed to the ground from bombs. They rebuild their house larger and nicer with the help of Hansu’s construction company. Kim stays with them. The interior is nicer, but the exterior still looks shabby because it’s a bad idea to flaunt your worth.
In Osaka, Hansu runs an operation that provides a protection to business-owners in exchange for fees. Kim now works for him collecting those fees. The fees are not optional and failure to pay results in other men coming to deal with those business-owners.
When Kim thinks about going back to Korea to do something for his country, Hansu advises against it. He reminds him that the emperor doesn’t care about him and the communists don’t care about him. Instead, Kim should do what’s in his best interests. Hansu says he knows that he’s not a nice man, just one that knows how to make money. That farmer Tamaguchi seems nice, but he was selling his sweet potatoes at exorbitant prices to starving people, against governmental regulations, with Hansu’s help. Hansu also knows that Kim likes Kyunghee, so to take Kim’s mind off things, Hansu pays for a prostitute for Kim.
Chapters 10 – 12
In 1953, Noa is working as a bookkeeper for a local landowner, Hoji, while Sunja tries to save up money to get him a tutor so he can pass his Waseda exams. Yoseb works, but has high medical bills. Kim pays them a small amount in room in board, but Yoseb forbids Sunja from taking money from Hansu. Yangjin is now 57. She wonders what happened to the two servant girls who had left with a woman offering them jobs in China. She worries that they may have become comfort women (sex workers) for Japanese soldiers and may now be dead.
Mozasu is 13 now and dislikes school. Still, Noa diligently tries to tutor him. As a Korean, Mozasu is ostracized by the Japanese kids. While Noa had reacted by focusing on his schoolwork, Mozasu gets into fights. When a new Japanese kid Haruki is rejected socially because he is poor and his brother is born with a physical deformity, Mozasu befriends him.
By October 1955, Mozasu is 16, but gets into fights if anyone tries to bully him or Haruki. Sunja has him work in their candy stall after school to try to keep him out of trouble. He goes to see a flirty female friend, Chiyaki, who works in a sock store. When a customer tries to molest her, Mozasu punches the guy and soon gets arrested. Goro, who owns a pachinko parlor nearby, notices and talks the police down. Afterwards, Goro tells Mozasu to come work for him, and Goro assures Sunja he will straighten him out.
Six months later, in May 1956, Mozasu is no longer in school and is happy working for Goro, free from the taunts of the other schoolboys. Goro is a fat Korean man who is good with women. Goro teaches Mozasu how to tap the pins to adjust the machines, and he makes Mozasu the morning foreman. Goro then takes Mozasu to a seamstress, who happens to be Haruki’s mother Totoyama, and buys him some new clothes.
Chapter 13 – 14
In 1957, Noa has passed his entrance exam to Waseda University in Tokyo, but Yoseb needs expensive medicine and the family has to figure out how to make ends meet. Sunja considers taking money from Hansu, but Yoseb says Hansu will use it to control Noa. However, Sunja ends up going to Hansu who happily pays Noa’s tuition, room and board. When Sunja demands that it be a loan, Hansu threatens to tell Noa about his true paternity.
Yoseb hates being a burden on his family and knows he will die soon. He also know Kim is in love with his wife. One day, to Kim’s shock, Yoseb tells Kim that he knows he wishes to marry Kyunghee, but not to take her to Korean while the communists control it. Kim tells Kyunghee, but ignores Yoseb’s request and suggests that she go with him to Pyongyang. However, Kyunghee refuses to discuss it while Yoseb still lives. The next day, Kim leaves for Korea without saying goodbye.
Chapters 15 – 17
By 1960, Noa is two years into his English Literature studies at Waseda. One day, Akiko Fumeki, who is known for being beautiful but radical politically, comes up to talk to him. He is impressed when Akiko argues over a George Eliot novel, both by her ideas and by her willingness to publicly disagree with the professor. Noa finds himself thinking about Akiko.
Meanwhile, Mozasu has been busy working with Goro in minding the six pachinko parlors. Now, Goro is opening a seventh and wants Mozasu to be the manager, a big responsibility. They go to see Totoyama , who now works as Goro’s exclusive uniform maker and employs half a dozen assistants. A new girl, Yumi, is very pretty, and Mozasu starts seeing her. By October 1961, it’s been over a year that they’ve been together. Mozasu runs into Haruki, who is a police officer now as he had once aspired to be. Haruki has romantic feelings for Mozasu, but tries to hide them.
Pastor John Maryman, a Presbyterian pastor, is a Korean man who was adopted by American missionaries. He’s also Yumi and Mozasu’s English teacher. Yumi studies hard because she hopes to go to Los Angeles one day, where she believes it is more okay to be different than in Japan. Mozasu loves Yumi, but wants to stay in Japan where he believes he can someday open his own pachinko parlor and get rich.
Chapters 18 – 20
By March 1962, Mozasu is married, and Yumi is pregnant. Noa and Akiko spend most of their free time in Noa’s spacious apartment that Hansu’s friend rents to Noa for cheap. Noa goes to see Hansu, which he does once a month. Out of curiosity, Akiko shows up uninvited while they are having lunch and joins them.
Afterwards, Noa is furious with Akiko for invading his privacy. Akiko is genuinely confused at his anger. When she asks if it’s because he’s ashamed of being Korean, but that bothers Noa even more since he wants her to see him as a human, not just as a Korean who she condescends to be with to prove she is a good person. When he breaks up with her, Akiko angrily tells him that it’s obvious that Hansu is his father because he looks like him, and it’s obvious Hansu is a Yakuza gangster because only a gangster could afford those things.
Noa goes home and confronts Sunja about it. Sunja admits that Hansu is his father from before she knew Isak, but tells him that Hansu was not a gangster when she met him, just a fish salesman. Noa hates that he has Yakuza blood and that his education has been paid for by Yakuza money. He angrily leaves.
In April 1962, Sunja gets word from Noa that he has left university and is starting a new life. Noa does not intend to return, but he will send some money home and he intends to repay Hansu. Sunja is distraught and goes to find Hansu to ask him to look for Noa. At his house, Sunja meets Mieko, his wife, but Hansu is not there and rarely comes home. There is a servant boy, and Sunja asks him to please tell Hansu she was looking for him when he sees him.
Book III: Pachinko (1962 – 1989)
Chapters 1 – 2
Meanwhile, April 1962, in a cafe in Nagano, Noa needs a job and the waiter, Bingo, suggests a Pachinko parlor that is hiring. However they don’t hire foreigners, so Noa pretends to be Japanese. Hideo Takano is the manager, and he hires Noa as a bookkeeper. He works under Ikeda, the head accountant.
By April 1965, Yumi has had two miscarriages. She is pregnant again, so Mozasu takes her to a famous doctor who tells Yumi she needs bed rest for this pregnancy. Sunja takes care of Yumi while she is on bed rest. Yumi confides that her mother was a prostitute and her father was her pimp. They were unmarried. Her mother beat them, so she and her sister ran away after their brother died. Her sister later got sick and died, too.
Soon, baby Solomon is born.
Chapters 3 – 4
November 1968, Mozasu now owns his Pachinko parlor in Yokohama. He gets word that Yumi and Solomon were in a car accident, and Yumi died. At the funeral, Mozasu recalls how Yumi always help out hope that they’d end up in America, but he never took her there. Hansu shows up to the funeral. Hansu lives in Tokyo now and has been receiving repayment from Noa, but doesn’t know where he is.
Hansu is interrupted by a new girl, a hooker and former beauty pageant winner named Noriko, he’s seeing who wants to go shopping. He angrily beats her for bothering him during a funeral. (After the beating, Noriko never looks the same, and she is sent off to a bath house to serve men in the nude until she is too old to do so.)
Solomon now attends an interational school where is a cheerful and good student. As Sunja goes to pick him up, Hansu drops by, who Sunja has not seen in eleven years. Hansu thinks to himself that he still loves Sunja. Sunja is angry that she went looking for him six years ago and he didn’t show up until now. Hansu admits that he still has not located Noa, but he begs to talk so Sunja because he is dying.
Detective Haruki is coming to dinner that night, so Hansu, Sunja, Mozasu, Haruki and Solomon end up eating together. The family now lives in a three-bedroom house in the Westerner part of Yokohama. Hansu is now 70, and Sunja is 52. Haruki is gay, but is engaged to one of his mother’s assistants. Solomon tells Haruki that Haruki should move here. Haruki considers it, and Hansu tells Haruki that the Chief of Police is a friend. Hansu offers to help arrange a transfer if needed.
In Nagano in January 1969, Noa is still pretending to be Japanese, going by the name Nobuo Ban. Risa Iwamura is the head filing clerk at the Pachinko parlor, where Noa is in charge of the business offices. Her father had committed suicide, making her unmarriageable, since it indicated mental illness in the family. Noa ends up asking her to dinner and later marrying her. They have four children, two twin girls, a boy and a girl. They have a stable, but not very passionate marriage.
Chapters 6 – 7
In July 1974, Haruki plans to move to Yokohama with his wife, Ayame. Ayame used to work for his mother and took over running the shop after his mother got sick. Now that she has passed away, they want to sell it and move. With a phone call to Hansu, Haruki gets the same job he has now but in Yokohama, and Ayame plans to stay home and care for Haruki’s brother Daisuke. Daisuke is thirty, but mentally still 5 or 6.
Haruki and Ayame have no children because Ayame is infertile. They stopped having sex after they found out. One day she goes to the park behind a cemetery and sees two men performing a sex act. A few days later, she returns and is propositioned by a female prostitute. Three months later, she goes back and to her surprise, she sees Haruki with another man at the same park. After he leaves, the female prostitute from before starts to come on to Ayame, but Ayame pushes her away when the she demands money. At home, Ayame does not say anything to Haruki about any of it.
In March 1976, Haruki is investigating the suicide of a 12-year-old Korean boy who was bullied by his classmates for being poor. He’s unfortunately unable to do anything about it, since it’s not a crime to bully anyone. Haruki remembers his own desire to kill himself as a kid. Upset, Haruki goes to play pachinko and loses a lot of money, though he can afford it because of how much money his mother had managed to save up. Mozasu sees him as he’s leaving and gives him some money back to make up for his losses. Afterwards, they chat and Mozasu tries to cheer Haruki up. Mozasu is dating a woman named Etsuko, who he is happy with. When Haruki laments his father leaving, Mozasu reminds him that his mother was better than five fathers put together.
In March 1976, Hansu takes Sunja to Noa’s office in Nagano, which he has now tracked down. He tells Sunja that they can watch him from afar, but that they should respect his privacy. However, when Sunja sees Noa, she runs out of the car and goes to talk to him. She begs him to come home, but he says no. He politely tells her about his life, working in a pachinko parlor even though it is an unsavory business in some ways. He also says that he’s a Japanese citizen now, and asks her to leave, saying that he’ll try to come visit next week. However, Noa shoots himself a few minutes after she exits.
Chapters 9 – 11
In 1979, Mozasu’s girlffriend, Etsuko, finds out her teen daughter Hana is pregnant. Etsuko has three children from her previous marriage. She thinks back to herself at 17, and being pregnant with Tatsuo, her oldest son. Etsuko also thinks about her own bad reputation, which is not helped by dating a pachinko man, but she loves him. When she was younger, she’d engaged in a series of affairs with old boyfriends, desperate for every man she’d cared for to continue loving her. When her husband had found some erotic poems one of them wrote to her, he beat her and divorced her. He also got custody of the kids, and only her daughter still speaks to her. Tatsuo is 25 now and attending a 4th-rate college. Her other son, Tari, is a ticket taker at a movie theater.
That day, they are taking Solomon to get his alien registration card. After turning 14, Koreans born in Japan after 1952 have to re-register for permission to remain in Japan every three years. The clerk insults Koreans as she fingerprints Solomon, which angers Etsuko even though she is Japanese.
Before Solomon’s birthday party, Etsuko and Hana get into an argument. Hana tells Etsuko that she is selfish and accuses her of dating a Yakuza when she sees how opulent Solomon’s birthday is. Etsuko says she has no married him for the sake of Hana and her siblings, but Hana rebukes her actions, saying that Etsuko did that for herself. Etsuko owns a tasteful restaurant and wants to be seen as that, instead of as a Korean gangster’s wife (even though Mozazu is not a gangster). Still, Hana comes home with Etsuko because she needs help, and Etsuko is happy to have her back.
Solomon’s birthday is full of his international school friends, kids of wealthy diplomats, bankers and expatriates. Solomon’s best friends are Nigel, the son of a banker, and A.J., the son of a shipping executive. A famous rock bank performs at the party. After the party, Etsuko prepares some food for Solomon and they chat. When Etsuko expresses sadness over her relationship with her children, Solomon tells her that they only hate her because they are sad that she’s not around. He assures her that she is a mother to him, and Etsuko hugs him.
Chapters 12 – 15
In Osaka in 1979, Sunja is taking care of her mother, Yangjin, who has stomach cancer. Kyunghee has been helping as well. Before Yangjin passes away, she tells Sunja that she thinks Noa came from a “bad seed”, but Sunja disagrees. Sunja thinks that Noa simply grew up with the firm belief that if he was good and worked hard that he could overcome this hostile world, but was disappointed by reality.
Hansu shows up to the funeral and explains that his wife has passed away. He explains that he never able to divorce her because her father was his boss. He suggests that Sunja marry him, but she reacts angrily.
After the funeral, Hana propositions Solomon, encourages him to drink and continues to tease him after he walks away. Hana seduces him, and she teaches him to be her ideal lover. Solomon can tell that she is restless and sad, but he likes her and wants to make her happy. They begin having sex many times every day. Hana makes Solomon promise to keep things quiet about them. She also demands money from him. After she gets all his money, she leaves.
Hana doesn’t see him until three years later before he leaves for college. Later, in 1985, Solomon is at Columbia University in New York and she calls him one night, drunk. She’s still in Tokyo, working as a club hostess, but won’t tell them where she lives. Etsuko has been searching for Hana, but each time they get close, Hana gets fired from the place for too much drinking. Solomon still feels deeply for Hana. Months later, Etsuko finally finds Hana, who is working at a Kabukicho (red light district) toruko-buro where she bathes men for money. Etsuko begs Hana to come home.
Chapters 16 – 19
In 1989, Solomon is now working at a firm called Travis Brothers, the Japanese subsidiary of a British investment bank, in Tokyo. His girlfriend who he has been dating since sophomore year, Phoebe, comes with him. Phoebe is Korean, but was born in Seattle. She thinks the idea of being “North Korean” or “South Korean” is silly since it was all Korea when her parents left. She also thinks it’s crazy that Solomon is considered a foreigner in Japan even though his family has been living there for four generations. At school, the Americans were incredulous at the idea of the stereotypes of Koreans as “criminal, lazy, filthy, or aggressive”.
Solomon plays poker routinely with his coworkers, which he is quite good at. One night they play, he loses the last hnd on purpose to keep the other guys happy. Afterwards, Kazu, his boss, tells him not to do that and apologizes for the ignorant things about Korean people that were said at the table. Kazu also asks about his father owning a pachinko parlor, which surprises Solomon, since he’s never mentioned it. But Kazu says that Solomon is rich and all rich Koreans have a pachinko parlor somewhere in their past.
Kazu soon puts Solomon on a high-profile real estate deal, which requires getting a Korean woman, Sonoko Matsuda, in Yokohama to sell her property to them. Her refusal is blocking the deal. Soon, Solomon takes Phoebe to Yokohama to have lunch with his family. They are warm and inviting to her. Solomon asks his father about Matsuda. He doesn’t know her, but will ask around to find out what the situation is. Goro finds out that the lady doesn’t want to sell to the Japanese, so Goro agrees to buy it from her and sell it to them. Solomon tells his boss, and Kazu is happy to hear the news.
Etsuko was not at the lunch because Hana is sick. She is dying from a disease (likely AIDs). Solomon goes to see her a few times. She admits that even when she was Tokyo refusing to see anybody, she was secretly hoping Solomon would find her and carry her away from that life. She encourages him to take over his father’s pachinko business and be rich.
Afterwards, Kazu calls Solomon with bad news. The old woman, Matsuda, has suddenly died. The transaction is paused since the situation looks very bad, with a reluctant seller suddenly selling her property and dying immediately afterwards. Kazu fires Solomon. The client is upset and thinks the Yakuza were involved, though Solomon says that Goro is not Yakuza and would not do something like this. Kazu says that there’s going to be an investigation, and Solomon is escorted out of the building.
Solomon immediately goes to see his father, who is having lunch with Goro and Haruki, which they do each Wednesday. Solomon asks about the woman. Goro says that she died because she was 93 and he had nothing to do with her death. Goro tells Solomon that Kazu can’t possibly think that. If he did, Kazu would be too scared to fire him, since Kazu would be worried about getting killed as well. Goro says that Kazu used Solomon for his connections to get the property and then found an excuse to fire him.
Chapters 20 – 21
Phoebe wants to leave Japan and go back to America. She’s unable to work here because she doesn’t speak Japanese, and they are unmarried. Phoebe is also convinced that Japanese people are evil, but Solomon thinks of himself as Japanese, even if the country does not. When Solomon decides to stay in Japan and work with his father, they break up. Solomon tells his father the news, but Mozasu wants him to go back and work for another bank instead. Mozasu explains that this is not an easy business and people will say things about him, even if he is honest. However, Solomon insists.
Sunja goes to visit Isak’s grave. The groundskeeper talks to her, asking about Noa, who used to visit regularly. He says that Noa visited Isak all the time, even when he was living in Nagano. The groundskeeper says that Noa was always encouraging him to go back to school and even offered to pay for it if he wanted. The book ends with Sunja burying a photo of Noa in the dirt at Isak’s grave.