Celebrating Korean American Writer, Min Jin Lee

The timing was perfect.

While the world’s eyes were focused on PyeongChang, (which translates into land of prosperity), and the Winter Olympics, those of a small group from Women’s National Book Association in Charlotte, North Carolina were dialed onto Min Jin Lee, and her latest novel, Pachinko.

                          Pachinko author, Min Jin Lee is seated in the center.  

                          Blog author, Renee Johnson, is standing directly behind her.


Pachinko, a National Book Award Finalist, is a sweeping historical saga of a Korean family in Japan, much as the first of this trilogy–Free Food for Millionaires–focuses on Koreans in America.   It was also selected as one of New York Times Notable Books of 2017 and Top Ten of the Year, a USA Today Top Ten of 2017, and numerous other accolades, along with being one of our book club choices.

Having missed the group discussion immediately after reading it, I was thrilled to be able to attend the luncheon with its author, Min Jin Lee.

Lee arrived looking fresh and beautiful in spite of her whirlwind, international book tour.  Her friendliness and immediate ease with our group made us feel like we were having lunch with another gal pal, albeit an especially smart and talented one.

She seemed interested in us as well, quickly sketching a seating chart.  With our names noted in the spots we occupied at the table, she then asked questions about our lives and backgrounds.

By the time we got around to discussing Pachinko, we were relaxed and eager to learn about her process and inspiration.

“History has failed us, but no matter,” Lee began, in both the novel and our discussion of it.  Our group took this one bold statement and explored the reasons why this is true for us all, not just Koreans exiled in Japan.

We didn’t have to search far.  Our association, WNBA, was founded in 1917 when women were excluded from joining the prestigious Bookseller’s League.  Not to be ignored, fifteen women met at Sherwood’s Book Store in New York, forming a group of their own to give voice to female writers and readers.

We even found commonality in the inevitable presence of a “Hansu” character in most of our lives.  (Read the book to discover reasons why Hansu was both captivating, and a character to be avoided.)

The thing I most admired about Pachinko and Lee’s treatment of its historical significance, was her ability to deliver a fresh perspective on the Korean experience in the years from 1910 to 1989, while handling the events of that age with enough subtlety to make me forget I was traipsing through a history lesson.


If you’d like the opportunity to hear Min Jin Lee speak, you can catch her in one of the following cities:

Pittsburgh, PA at Alphabet City on February 20, 2018 at 8:00 p.m.

Washington, DC at Politics & Prose at The Wharf on February 26, 2018 at 7:00 p.m.

Cincinnati, OH at Mercantile Library on March 6, 2018 at 7:00 p.m.

Tucson, AZ during Tucson Festival of Books, March 11, 2018 at 11:30 a.m.

Hoboken, NJ at Little City Books on March 14, 2018 at 7:00 p.m.

Dartmouth, MA at Farm and Coast Market, March 15, 2018 at 7:00 p.m.

East Meadow, NY at East Meadow Public Library on March 20, 2018 at 8:00 p.m.

Nashville, TN at Parnassus Books (with Ann Patchett) on March 21, 2018 at 7:00 p.m.

And many more dates and cities.  To find one near you, click here.

Renee Johnson is the author of Behind The MaskHerald AngelsAcquisition, and The Haunting of William Gray.  She is currently working on a historical novel, while editing a suspense novel which has international flair–an homage to her love of travel and foreign food.  She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her husband, Tony Johnson, and two very spoiled German shepherds named Hansel and Gretel.


    1. You won’t be disappointed. Everyone in the book club loved it, and those of us who had the good fortune to have lunch with Min Jin Lee walked away adoring her as well. She followed her passion and instincts, and the result is a novel doused in history but straight from her heart.

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