Min Jin Lee

American writer

Min Jin Lee (born November 11, 1968) is a Korean American writer.

Min Jin Lee in 2018


  • In the United States we have two competing mythologies about immigration. On the one hand, we believe that different kinds of races make up an American person. On the other, a deep nativist strain keeps resurfacing. Nevertheless, there has also been strong resistance to nativism. Frederick Douglass, for instance, called the United States a “composite nation” when he argued against the Chinese Exclusion Act [of 1882].
  • Political novels can be boring to read unless written effectively with the powerful tools of fiction; I was trying to do this. I want my books to be pleasurable and edifying. Though Frederick Douglass didn’t write fiction, his speeches have great narrative power because he integrates storytelling tools elegantly with his political analysis.
  • “History has failed us, but no matter” serves as my thesis statement. I believe history has failed almost everybody who is ordinary in the world, not just the Korean-Japanese, who are the subject of Pachinko. I am also arguing that the discipline of history has failed. It is not that historians aren’t doing their jobs but rather that the memory of history has been reconstructed by the elite, because the overwhelming majority of ordinary people rarely leave sufficient primary documents; they do not have others recording their lives in real time. The phrase “but no matter” is a statement of defiance. It doesn’t matter that history has failed us because ordinary people have persisted anyway. This idea gives me an enormous amount of strength and hope as a writer because I am an ordinary person. Those of us who may be women of color, immigrants, or working class aren’t often meant to be people who write novels about ideas, but no matter.
  • My point of view of Korea is a child’s point of view. Because I left when I was seven and a half, there was an enormous amount of innocence. While I was growing up, a lot of horrible things happened politically in South Korea, and yet, I had a mother who was teaching piano at home. I remember things like getting ice cream as treats if we had some extra money, or how my father always wore a suit to the office; that’s sort of what I remember as a child. And that innocence is really nice because, now that I learned the historical aspect of what was really going on, I think, gosh, they must have been terrified in some ways. They must have been terrified sufficiently to say, “We would like to immigrate to another country and start all over again being essentially working class.”

Quotes about

  • (is a master class on dialogue:) Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Really it’s a masterclass of everything. I always tell people that I am the president of the Pachinko fan club. It is one of my favorite novels of all time and gave me insight into a part of history, and a part of the world, from perspectives I had never encountered. A must read.
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