The Pachinko Parlour by Elisa Shua Dusapin

“I felt almost affectionate towards those machines, a kind of pity tinged with fear. As soon as they were fed, their contents would be regurgitated, undigested.”

I am happy to report that I found Shua Dusapin’s second novel much more to my liking than her first one (which i actually tried revisiting hoping that it would be one of those ‘right book, wrong time’ kind of cases but nope). Cool yet incisive The Pachinko Parlour is an accomplished work that is able to simultaneously convey some of the protagonist’s feelings and thoughts with piercing clarity and to lend a certain ambivalence, opacity even, to her narration. Much of what Claire, our main character, experiences and observes is in fact permeated by an almost a hazy dreamlike quality, that really conveys that sense of being stuck in-between two different phases of your life. Claire is spending her summer in Tokyo with her grandparents who own a pachinko parlor called Shiny . She tutors 12-year-old Mieko, a clever yet sheltered child who takes an interest in Shiny.
At times the prose is unflattering in its descriptions of Claire’s environments and the people who populate them. Yet this adds authenticity to her narration, as her reality is rendered to us no matter how mundane. Some of the descriptions did bring me pause however, such as ‘Her teeth look discoloured, like shrivelled olives’ or ‘I take a good look at her. Long nose, rounded belly, like a baby seal’, as they seemed a wee bit contrived.
During her stay in Tokyo, Claire begins to reflect on her grandparents’ experiences from fleeing a civil war to finding themselves in a country where they are labeled ‘Zainichis’ and even after 50 years they do not seem to feel at ‘home’ in. They lead a fairly isolated life, even keeping themselves apart from other ‘Zainichis’.

“Looking at them, I feet overwhelmed. Their lives begin and end with the pachinko parlour.”

As Claire considers her family’s history she finds herself thinking about their relationship to her mother, the physical and emotional distance between all of them. The author at times articulate Claire’s sense of directionless and ennui in a way that is at struck me as crystal clear, and at other times instead she plays into the ambiguous and dreamlike ambience of her story, obfuscating and confusing our perception of Claire and the people around her.
The Pachinko Parlour is characterized by a coolly hypnotic tone, one that makes Claire’s interactions and introspections all the more captivating. I can see this type of unsentimental yet affecting writing appalling to readers who were fond of Jessica Au’s Cold Enough for Snow and Jhumpa Lahiri’s Whereabouts as well as the work of authors such as Jamaica Kincaid, Katie Kitamura, Donatella Di Pietrantonio, and Mieko Kawakami (despite thematic differences their works tend to be focus on solitary and/or lonely women prone to prolonged acts of introspection).

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ¼

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