I have been waiting a loooooong while for this book to get into my eager hands. A work friend extolled its virtues and it is the September book club pick for one of the clubs I’m in AND I figured it would be good for any number of bingo squares. I went with Far and Away because both the geographical and cultural differences from where I’m sitting in the American Midwest to rural Korea in the 1900s are expansive.
While I was reading it, I was reminded of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ “One Hundred Years of Solitude” because Lee, like Marquez, follows one family through nearly a generation. I know that Marquez is lauded as almost the founding father of magical realism, but y’all, I felt like I had LIVED through 100 years of solitude in order to get through that book. I’m pleased to say that Lee hits some of the same sweeping epic notes, but she moves the action and characters along briskly, so that you are easily swept up in this narrative.
It’s hard to get into the nitty gritty of this book without spoiling some of the early plot points, so I’ll keep it brief. We follow one family from the 1900s through the 1980s and see how impossible choices, between a rock, and a slightly less pointy rock, shape the future. It was a moving story about family, war, hardship, and love. Lee is masterful at getting the reader from A to Z. Once the initial action is set, she begins to “time travel” in that every few chapters she jumps a head a few years, and sometimes to a different city with a different family member. This keeps the reader up-to-date on everyone without constantly having to backtrack in the narrative. Plus, she allows the characters to give details about each other. For example, the end of one chapter has a couple, I’ll call A and B just starting out, but the start of the next chapter is two years later, in another city, and a relative of A, C mentions to another character D, offhandedly, that A and B have a baby on the way. So, the reader knows what’s been happening. This is a unique way to “show, not tell” and I was very engaged because of it. If anything, Lee moves it along a little too quickly which is unusual for a book with such wide scope.
Fun fact: I’m a stickler for trying to make sense of a title and it takes quite while for the title to click together with the action of the book, and in fact about halfway through I recall pondering, “Soooo, Pachinko? Por que??” But, it all becomes crystal clear in the latter half. Stay the course.
In conclusion, I see what this book was a finalist for the national book award, and I agree with all the hubbub. Two thumbs up, do recommend.