Korean American author Min Jin Lee has been selected as one of the 200 honorees by the Antiracist Research and Policy Center and the Frederick Douglass Foundation. She has been awarded for her stewardship in promoting social change.
According to The Guardian, “ Min Jin Lee is a National Book Award finalist, whose writings wrestle with the themes of race, class, diaspora, religion, and love”.
Her most recent book titled Pachinko has received critical acclaim by the NY Times as one of the “Top 10 Books of 2017”. Pachinko is a fiction novel centered on the Korean community in Japan.
The novel begins with its thesis “History has failed us, but no matter”. When asked about its meaning, Lee explains how history as a discipline has failed since its only been centered on the elite.
“The overwhelming majority of ordinary people rarely leave sufficient primary documents; they do not have others recording their lives in real time” she notes.
The second part of the phrase “But no matter” is a defiance to that failure. Although the histories of ordinary people have not been documented, they have continued to thrive and persist. It is that realization that empowers her to continue writing.
“It doesn’t matter that history has failed us because ordinary people have persisted anyway” Lee states. “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”.
Her inspiration for Pachinko emanates from her love for research of all kinds, according to PBS. Studying history in college, Lee’s journey towards “social realist” writing began with academic research. She then moved on to secondary research, that is both academic and mainstream in nature.
When she moved to Japan, she conducted her own fieldwork by interviewing members of the Korean Japanese community. It wasn’t until she read Korean Japanese literature when she realized how serious and narrow its point of view was. Drawn to their stories, Lee decided that fiction would be the most effective way to communicate them — a genre where the characters complex personalities can be explored.
“Fiction has the ability to expand people’s points of view, and also to have the contradictions because people are so contradictory,” she tells PBS.
Despite Pachinko’s fictional approach, its underlying themes of colonialism and xenophobia remain authentic. Believing that all art is inherently political, Lee uses fictional writing as a means to communicate political knowledge in an interesting way.
“Political novels can be boring to read unless written effectively with the powerful tools of fiction; I was trying to do this” Lee states in an interview with The Guardian. “I want my books to be pleasurable and edifying”.
While Pachinko has been revered across book clubs and literary critic circles, it originally struggled to come into fruition. She wrote it between 1996 and 2003 but left it unpublished until 2017.
Referring to the challenges of publishing the book, she states “That’s the funniest thing about wishes that come from your heart. You don’t know why they’re there. And you don’t know which ones you’re going to honor. But I did honor my wish to make good works of art” — reports AdWeek.
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