The Pachinko Parlour by Elisa Shua Dusapin, Translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins
Published by Daunt Books
Adult, Literary Fiction
Release Date : August 18th 2022
The days are beginning to draw in. The sky is dark by seven in the evening. I lie on the floor and gaze out of the window. Women’s calves, men’s shoes, heels trodden down by the weight of bodies borne for too long.
It is summer in Tokyo. Claire finds herself dividing her time between tutoring twelve-year-old Mieko, in an apartment in an abandoned hotel, and lying on the floor at her grandparents: daydreaming, playing Tetris and listening to the sounds from the street above. The heat rises; the days slip by.
The plan is for Claire to visit Korea with her grandparents. They fled the civil war there over fifty years ago, along with thousands of others, and haven’t been back since. When they first arrived in Japan, they opened Shiny, a pachinko parlour. Shiny is still open, drawing people in with its bright, flashing lights and promises of good fortune. And as Mieko and Claire gradually bond, a tender relationship growing, Mieko’s determination to visit the pachinko parlour builds.
The Pachinko Parlour is a nuanced and beguiling exploration of identity and otherness, unspoken histories, and the loneliness you can feel amongst family. Crisp and enigmatic, Shua Dusapin’s writing glows with intelligence.
It’s not my fault, I think to myself, if I don’t tell them anything. If I can’t speak to them in Korean. I can’t help it if I live in Switzerland and speak French. I studied Japanese for their sakes. Because this is where they live and that’s what people speak here.
The Pachinko Parlour is a short quiet book that showcases Dusapin’s strength precise and delicate writing, conveying emotion and complex themes through mundanity.
The story of The Pachinko Parlour is laced with tension, minimal plot, and underlying eerie ominous tone. Dusapin shapes the story through the introduction of the characters : Claire, a half Korean and Switzerland woman in her 30s; Claire’s grandparents who own a pachinko parlour; Mieko, a young girl Claire tutors and Mieko’s mother. The story is told from the sole perspective of Claire as she spends her summer in Tokyo. Claire’s grandparents are Korean that have lived in Japan for years, running a small pachinko parlour that is also their home. Occasionally Claire goes to Mieko’s apartment teaching her french.
The plot is minimal so I would categorise The Pachinko Parlour as a quiet book. There are no big dramatic reveals or conflicts, just ordinary day to day occurrences during that one specific summer. Which led to me observing the characters that are complex in their behaviour and reactions to tension. This foreboding tension looms ominously is the background of each scene.
I force myself to stay awake, believing that nothing will change, nothing will age, so long as I’m not asleep. I feel trapped, the ground beneath me is poisoned, the earth’s crust itself as toxic as the liquid oozing from my ears.
As mundane as each scene is there is underlying urgency and reluctance emanating from all the characters. It is an oddly cinematic and emotional journey that clearly displays Dusapin’s precise way of writing. Dusapin builds this tension lightly as the story unfolds revealing the clear picture that points to home. Claire ruminates on the idea of belonging through reminiscing on her childhood visiting Japan and the connections that are waiting for her back in Geneva. She feels an obligation to commit with the plans but never finds it in herself to do so up until the climax. This also comes to other characters in the end that is satisfying to see.
Dusapin’s way of showing themes is through subtle anecdotes and passing conversations between characters. It is brilliant how Dusapin weaves topics such as the impact of the Korean war, the relationship between identity, culture, and language; the uncertainties of belonging as an immigrant family. Though this story focuses on a Korean-Switzerland girl, it is a relatable story that can resonate with many multi racial families.
All that lingers is an echo. A clamor of languages merging gradually to become one.
The Pachinko Parlour is my first time experiencing the simple and delicate writing style of Elisa Shua Dusapin. Sentences with no more than three to five words can resonate such impactful meaning that readers can feel the weight of Dusapin’s intent to convey emotion of each character. Finishing this gem of a book in one sitting is hugely satisfying for me. It is a nice short book that conveys complex characters and themes that don’t take a lot from readers to entangle. Personally, I loved the simplicity and mundanity of the story. I can certify that I will read Elisa Shua Dusapin’s next work in the near future.
Before I end my review I would like to applaud Aneesa Abbas Higgins for translating Dusapin’s prose into English. I am sure that the original text is beautiful in the language it is written in but what Aneesa did for The Pachinko Parlour is fabulous and I admire them for making this piece of literature accessible to more audiences. I highly recommend The Pachinko Parlour for readers that are looking for simple-one sitting kind of book and that are interested in quiet books. The low stakes and character focused stories that require minimal effort to consume.
About the Author
Elisa Shua Dusapin was born in France in 1992 and raised in Paris, Seoul and Switzerland. Winter in Sokcho (Hiver à Sokcho) is her first novel. Published in 2016 to wide acclaim, it was awarded the Prix Robert Walser and the Prix Régine Desforges and has been translated into six languages.