Pachinko / Minjin Lee


결말 읽고 난 뒤에 이상태됐음




근래 읽은 책들 중 가장 좋았다... 요즘은 책 읽을 짬이 많이 나질 않아 두꺼운 책은 잘 읽지 않았는데 파친코는 순식간에 완독했다. 결말도 정말 지독했던 게... 선자와 함께했던 오십여 년의 세월이 아무것도 아니었다는 듯 덤덤하게 끝나버려서 머리 박박 쥐어뜯었음.... 핏빛 자오선 이후로 이렇게까지 몇 날 며칠을 마지막 장면 생각만 하게 만드는 소설은 처음이다.



  History has failed us, but no matter.


The decent father had begged the matchmaker to find grooms for his unmarried daughters, since it was better for virgins to marry anyone than to scrounge for food when men and women were hungry, and virtue was expensive. The girl, Yangjin, was the last of the four girls and the easiest to unload because she was too young to complain, and she’d had the least to eat.



Hoonie used to listen carefully to all the men who brought him news, and he would nod, exhale resolutely, and then get up to take care of the chores. “No matter,” he would say, “no matter.” Whether China capitulated or avenged itself, the weeds would have to be pulled from the vegetable garden, rope sandals would need to be woven if they were to have shoes, and the thieves who tried often to steal their few chickens had to be kept away.



“It’s our own damn fault for losing the country. I know that,” he continued. “Those goddamn aristocrat sons of bitches sold us out. Not a single yangban bastard has a full set of balls.” Both Yangjin and Sunja knew the girls in the kitchen were giggling at the coal man’s tirade, which didn’t vary from week to week.



The ajumma noticed that the new fish broker was staring at the boardinghouse girl. “Shameless man. How he stares! He’s almost old enough to be your father!” The seaweed ajumma rolled her eyes. “Just because a man’s rich doesn’t give him the right to be so brazen with a nice girl from a good family.”
 



Sunja-ya, a woman’s life is endless work and suffering. There is suffering and then more suffering. It’s better to expect it, you know. You’re becoming a woman now, so you should be told this. For a woman, the man you marry will determine the quality of your life completely. A good man is a decent life, and a bad man is a cursed life—but no matter what, always expect suffering, and just keep working hard. No one will take care of a poor woman—just ourselves.”
 




The woman looked hopeless. The lodgers brought Isak newspapers to read aloud for them, and lately, every story was a sad one. He felt an overwhelming sense of brokenness in the people. The country had been under the colonial government for over two decades, and no one could see an end in sight. It felt like everyone had given up.



“Ajumoni, do you believe in God?” She shook her head no. “My husband said Christians were not bad people. Some were patriots who fought for independence. Right?” “Yes, my teachers at the seminary in Pyongyang fought for independence. My oldest brother died in 1919.” “Are you political, too?” She looked concerned; Hoonie had told her that they should avoid housing activists because it would be dangerous. “Like your brother?” “My brother Samoel was a pastor. He led me to Christ. My brother was a brilliant man. Fearless and kind.” Yangjin nodded. Hoonie had wanted independence for Korea, but he believed that a man had to care for his family first.



“So many terrible things are happening here.” “God controls all things, but we don’t understand his reasons. Sometimes, I don’t like his actions, either. It’s frustrating.”



I talk to the dead although I don’t believe in ghosts. But it makes me feel good to speak with them. Maybe that is what God is. A good God wouldn’t have let my babies die. I can’t believe in that. My babies did nothing wrong.”



“But a God that did everything we thought was right and good wouldn’t be the creator of the universe. He would be our puppet. He wouldn’t be God. There’s more to everything than we can know.”



Oddly enough, all the talk of his inevitable death hadn’t discouraged him. He had become almost inured to death; his frailty had reinforced his conviction that he must do something of consequence while he had the time. His brother Samoel, the eldest son, was never ill, but he had died young. He had been beaten badly by the colonial police after a protest and did not survive the arrest. Isak decided then that he would live a braver life.



He picked up his tea tray and brought it to the threshold of the kitchen. He had been reminded numerous times that there was no need for him to bring his tray to the kitchen, where men were not supposed to enter, but Isak wanted to do something for the women, who were always working.



Jun didn’t like going to places that asked for money. He didn’t like monks who collected alms, either. As far as he was concerned, the whole religion thing was a racket for overeducated men who didn’t want to do real work.



"If the young woman was abandoned by a scoundrel, it’s hardly her fault, and certainly, even if the man is not a bad person, the unborn child is innocent. Why should he suffer so? He would be ostracized.”
 



His faith had not wavered, but his temperament had altered seemingly forever. It was as if a warm room had gotten cooler, but it was still the same room.



She couldn’t be his mistress, however. Her crippled father had loved her mother, who had grown up even poorer than most; he had treasured her. When he was alive, after the boardinghouse guests were served their meals, the three would eat together as a family at the same low dinner table. Her father could’ve eaten before the women, but he’d never wanted that. At the table, he’d make sure that her mother had as much meat and fish on her plate as he did. In the summer, after finishing a long day, he’d tend to the watermelon patch because it was his wife’s favorite fruit. Each winter, he’d procure fresh cotton wool to pad their jackets, and if there wasn’t enough, he’d claim his own jacket didn’t need new filling.



Take good care of your husband. Otherwise, another woman will. Treat your husband’s family with reverence. Obey them. If you make mistakes, they’ll curse our family. Think of your kind father, who always did his best for us.” Yangjin tried to think of anything else she was supposed to tell her. It was hard to focus.



“Your home is with your husband,” Yangjin said. This was what her father had told her when she married Hoonie. “Never come home again,” he’d said to her, but Yangjin couldn’t say this to her own child. “Make a good home for him and your child. That’s your job. They must not suffer.”



As before, she held her bundles close to her heart and belly to inhale the lingering scent of home on the fabric covering their possessions.



Yoseb remembered how good it was before the Japanese came—he was ten years old when the country was colonized; and yet he couldn’t do what their elder brother, Samoel, had done so bravely—fight and end up as a martyr. Protesting was for young men without families.



“They think it’s from my wages, but that barely covers our rent and expenses. My brother has to go to school; Mother told me that it’s my responsibility for him to finish. He’s threatening to quit his studies so he can work, but that’s a foolish decision in the long run. Then we’ll always be working these terrible jobs. Without knowing how to read and write Japanese.” Isak was astonished by her clarity; she had thought this through. He was half a dozen years older than she was, and he had not thought of such things. He’d never given his parents one sen of his wages, since he’d never earned money before.



“I’ve seen this many times. Girls think they’ll have the upper hand because these kinds of men seem so pliable, when in fact, the girls are the ones who end up paying bitterly for their mistakes. The Lord forgives, but the world does not forgive.”



You can’t imagine: a dozen in a room that should be for two, men and families sleeping in shifts. Pigs and chickens inside homes. No running water. No heat. The Japanese think Koreans are filthy, but they have no choice but to live in squalor.



When the Koreans had to choose a Japanese surname, Isak’s father had chosen Bando because it had sounded like the Korean word ban-deh, meaning objection, making their compulsory Japanese name a kind of joke. Kyunghee had assured her that all these names would become normal soon enough.



Yoseb would have crawled on his belly across the floor of the station if that would have made Isak free. Their eldest brother, Samoel, had been the brave one, the one who would’ve confronted the officers with audacity and grace, but Yoseb knew he was no hero. He would have borrowed more money and sold their shack if the police would take a bribe in exchange for Isak; Yoseb didn’t see the point of anyone dying for his country or for some greater ideal. He understood survival and family.



“Shimamura-san would never help anyone in jail. He thinks that Christians are rebels. The people who were in charge of the March 1 demo were Christians. All the Japanese know that. I don’t even tell him that I go to church. I don’t tell him anything. He’d just fire me if he thought I was mixed up in any kind of protest activity. Then where would we be? There are no jobs for people like me.”



Did Koreans want Japan to win? Hell no, but what would happen to them if Japan’s enemies won? Could the Koreans save themselves? Apparently not. So save your own ass—this was what Koreans believed privately. Save your family. Feed your belly. Pay attention, and be skeptical of the people in charge.



For every patriot fighting for a free Korea, or for any unlucky Korean bastard fighting on behalf of Japan, there were ten thousand compatriots on the ground and elsewhere who were just trying to eat. In the end, your belly was your emperor.



Now that he was gone, Sunja held on to her father’s warmth and kind words like polished gems. No one should expect praise, and certainly not a woman, but as a little girl, she’d been treasured, nothing less. She’d been her father’s delight. She wanted Noa to know what that was like, and she thanked God with every bit of her being for her boys.



Shimamura kept a blue, cloth-bound ledger with warnings listed next to the names of the girls, written in his beautiful hand-lettering. His foreman, Yoseb, disliked punishing the girls, and Shimamura viewed this as yet another example of Korean weakness. The factory owner believed that if all Asian countries were run with a kind of Japanese efficiency, attention to detail, and high level of organization, Asia as a whole would prosper and rise—able to defeat the unscrupulous West. Shimamura believed he was a fair person with perhaps a too-soft heart, which explained why he hired foreigners when many of his friends wouldn’t. When they pointed to the slovenly nature of foreigners, he argued how could the foreigners ever learn unless the Japanese taught them to loathe incompetence and sloth. Shimamura felt that standards must be maintained for posterity’s sake.



There was no one as good as Isak. He’d tried to understand her, to respect her feelings; he’d never once brought up her shame. He’d comforted her patiently when she’d lost the pregnancies between Noa and Mozasu. Finally, when she gave birth to their son, he’d been overjoyed, but she’d been too worried about how they’d survive with so little money to feel his happiness. Now that he was back home to die, what did money matter, anyway? She should’ve done more for him; she should’ve tried to know him the way he had tried to know her; and now it was over. Even with his gashed and emaciated frame, his beauty was remarkable.



When Yoseb returned home, the house grew somber again, because Yoseb wouldn’t ignore the obvious. “How could they?” Yoseb said, staring hard at Isak’s body. “My boy, couldn’t you just tell them what they wanted to hear? Couldn’t you just say you worshipped the Emperor even if it isn’t true? Don’t you know that the most important thing is to stay alive?”



The government knows it can never win but won’t admit it. The Americans know that the Japanese military has to be stopped. The Japanese military would kill every Japanese boy rather than admit its error. Fortunately, the war will end before Noa is recruited.”



Yet here was the same face—the one she had loved so much. She had loved his face the way she had loved the brightness of the moon and the cold blue water of the sea.



“This country would fall apart if everyone believed in some samurai crap. The Emperor does not give a fuck about anyone, either. So I’m not going to tell you not to go to any meetings or not to join any group. But know this: Those communists don’t care about you. They don’t care about anybody. You’re crazy if you think they care about Korea.”



Patriotism is just an idea, so is capitalism or communism. But ideas can make men forget their own interests. And the guys in charge will exploit men who believe in ideas too much. You can’t fix Korea. Not even a hundred of you or a hundred of me can fix Korea. The Japs are out and now Russia, China, and America are fighting over our shitty little country.



The worst thing had happened: He was eating up his family’s future. Back home, in the olden days, he could have asked someone to carry him off to the mountains to die, perhaps to be eaten by tigers. He lived in Osaka, and there were no wild animals here—only expensive herbalists and doctors who could not help him get well, but rather keep him from just enough agony to fear death more while hating himself.



What surprised him was that as he felt closer to death, he felt the terror of death, its very finality. There were so many things he had failed to do. There were even more things he should never have done. He thought of his parents, whom he should never have left; his brother, whom he should never have brought to Osaka; and he thought of the job in Nagasaki he should never have taken. He had no children of his own. Why did God bring him this far? He was suffering, and in a way, he could manage that; but he had caused others to suffer, and he did not know why he had to live now and recall the series of terrible choices that had not looked so terrible at the time.



Hansu never told him to study, but rather to learn, and it occurred to Noa that there was a marked difference. Learning was like playing, not labor.



During one of their monthly lunches, Hansu had said that the leftists were “a bunch of whiners” and the rightists were “plain stupid.”



His Presbyterian minister father had believed in a divine design, and Mozasu believed that life was like this game where the player could adjust the dials yet also expect the uncertainty of factors he couldn’t control. He understood why his customers wanted to play something that looked fixed but which also left room for randomness and hope.



If it hadn’t been for his patient Korean wife, who possessed masterful noonchi and was able to explain to others tactfully that John just didn’t know any better, he would have gotten into trouble far more often for his many cultural missteps.



Noa stared at her. She would always believe that he was someone else, that he wasn’t himself but some fanciful idea of a foreign person; she would always feel like she was someone special because she had condescended to be with someone everyone else hated. His presence would prove to the world that she was a good person, an educated person, a liberal person. Noa didn’t care about being Korean when he was with her; in fact, he didn’t care about being Korean or Japanese with anyone. He wanted to be, to be just himself, whatever that meant; he wanted to forget himself sometimes. But that wasn’t possible. It would never be possible with her.



There was nothing else he could think of, and he wanted to spare her the cruelty of what he had learned, because she would not believe that she was no different than her parents, that seeing him as only Korean—good or bad—was the same as seeing him only as a bad Korean. She could not see his humanity, and Noa realized that this was what he wanted most of all: to be seen as human.



“You’re a good boy,” she said, and Sunja started to cry again, because all her life, Noa had been her joy. He had been a steady source of strength for her when she had expected so little from this life. “My umma works in a market in Nagoya; she helps another lady who sells vegetables,” he found himself telling her. He had not seen his mother and sisters since New Year’s. The only person he spoke to in Korean here was with the master himself. “She must wish to see you, too.” Sunja smiled weakly at the boy, feeling sorry for him. She touched his shoulder, then walked to the train station.



Finally, it is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly die for such limited imaginings.
—Benedict Anderson



He was raised as a Christian, but he felt respectful of Buddhists, especially those who had renounced the spoils of the world. The Lord was supposed to be everywhere, which was what Noa had learned at church, but would God keep away from temples or shrines? Did such places offend God, or did He understand those who may wish to worship something, anything?



Unlike the ajummas in the open market with their tight, black, permanent-wave curls, Sunja hadn’t colored her graying hair and wore it cut short like a man’s. Her mature figure was solid, neither small nor large. She had worked out of doors for so many years that the sun had carved thin grooves into her round, dark face. Like a Buddhist nun, Sunja wore no makeup, not even moisturizer. It was as if she had decided some time ago that she would not care what she looked like beyond being clean, as if to pay penance for having once cared about such things, when in fact she had not.



On his first birthday ceremony, Solomon clutched the crisp yen note over the ink brush, string, or cakes—signifying that he would have a rich life.



She had never been lovely, and certainly now, she didn’t believe that any man would ever want her. That part of her life had ended with Mozasu’s father. She was plain and wrinkled; her waist and thighs were thick. Her face and hands belonged to a poor, hardworking woman, and no matter how much money she had in her purse now, nothing would make her appealing. A long time ago, she had wanted Hansu more than her own life. Even when she broke with him, she had wanted him to return, to find her, to keep her.



When Noa asked her to dinner one winter evening, she replied, in shock, “Maji?” Among the file clerks, Nobuo Ban was a fascinating topic of discussion, but after so many years, with so little change in his behavior, the interested girls had long since given up. It took two dinners, perhaps even less time than that, for Risa to fall in love with Noa, and the two intensely private young people married that winter. On their wedding night, Risa was frightened. “Will it hurt?” “You can tell me to stop. I’d rather hurt myself than hurt you, my wife.” Neither had realized the loneliness each had lived with for such a long time until the loneliness was interrupted by genuine affection.
  



“Listen, man, there’s nothing you can do. This country isn’t going to change. Koreans like me can’t leave. Where we gonna go? But the Koreans back home aren’t changing, either. In Seoul, people like me get called Japanese bastards, and in Japan, I’m just another dirty Korean no matter how much money I make or how nice I am. So what the fuck? All those people who went back to the North are starving to death or scared shitless.”



Why did her family think pachinko was so terrible? Her father, a traveling salesman, had sold expensive life insurance policies to isolated housewives who couldn’t afford them, and Mozasu created spaces where grown men and women could play pinball for money. Both men had made money from chance and fear and loneliness. Every morning, Mozasu and his men tinkered with the machines to fix the outcomes—there could only be a few winners and a lot of losers. And yet we played on, because we had hope that we might be the lucky ones. How could you get angry at the ones who wanted to be in the game? Etsuko had failed in this important way—she had not taught her children to hope, to believe in the perhaps-absurd possibility that they might win. Pachinko was a foolish game, but life was not.



The interviewer was no ordinary woman of her generation; she was unmarried, childless, and a skilled world-traveling journalist who could ask any intimate question. She was reputed to have Korean blood, and the rumor alone was enough for Yangjin and Kyunghee to find Higuchi-san’s pluck and wanderlust relatable. They were devoted to her. When the women still ran their little confection shop, they’d rush straight home as soon as they closed to avoid missing even a minute of the program. Sunja had never been interested in the show, but now she sat through it for her mother’s sake.



“Things were very difficult for my parents, of course. They didn’t speak Spanish and didn’t know anything about chickens. Father died of a heart attack when I was six, then Mother raised us by herself. My oldest brother stayed here with our mother, but our other two brothers went to study in Montreal, then returned. My sisters and I worked on the farm.” “That must have been difficult, difficult work,” Higuchi-san exclaimed breathlessly. “A woman’s lot is to suffer,” Señora Wakamura said.



"Go-saeng,” Yangjin said out loud. “A woman’s lot is to suffer.” “Yes, go-saeng.” Kyunghee nodded, repeating the word for suffering. All her life, Sunja had heard this sentiment from other women, that they must suffer—suffer as a girl, suffer as a wife, suffer as a mother—die suffering. Go-saeng—the word made her sick. What else was there besides this? She had suffered to create a better life for Noa, and yet it was not enough. Should she have taught her son to suffer the humiliation that she’d drunk like water? In the end, he had refused to suffer the conditions of his birth. Did mothers fail by not telling their sons that suffering would come?



Sunja had made a mistake; however, she didn’t believe that her son came from a bad seed. The Japanese said that Koreans had too much anger and heat in their blood. Seeds, blood. How could you fight such hopeless ideas? Noa had been a sensitive child who had believed that if he followed all the rules and was the best, then somehow the hostile world would change its mind. His death may have been her fault for having allowed him to believe in such cruel ideals.



In the moments before her death, her mother had said that this man had ruined her life, but had he? He had given her Noa; unless she had been pregnant, she wouldn’t have married Isak, and without Isak, she wouldn’t have had Mozasu and now her grandson Solomon. She didn’t want to hate him anymore. What did Joseph say to his brothers who had sold him into slavery when he saw them again? “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” This was something Isak had taught her when she’d asked him about the evil of this world.



When she told her friends in New York about this curious historical anomaly and the pervasive ethnic bias, they were incredulous at the thought that the friendly, well-mannered Japanese they knew could ever think she was somehow criminal, lazy, filthy, or aggressive—the negative stereotypical traits of Koreans in Japan. “Well, everyone knows that the Koreans don’t get along with the Japanese,” her friends would say innocently, as if all things were equal. Soon, Phoebe stopped talking about it with her friends back home.



“So then the success tax comes from envy, and the shit tax comes from exploitation. Okay.” Solomon nodded like he was starting to get it. “Then what’s the mediocre tax? How can it be wrong to—?” “Good question, young Jedi. The tax for being mediocre comes from you and everyone else knowing that you are mediocre. It’s a heavier tax than you’d think.”



“Japan is not fucked because it lost the war or did bad things. Japan is fucked because there is no more war, and in peacetime everyone actually wants to be mediocre and is terrified of being different. The other thing is that the elite Japanese want to be English and white. That’s pathetic, delusional, and merits another discussion entirely.”



Phoebe was lively and good for the boy, she thought. Her mother used to say a woman’s life was suffering, but that was the last thing she wanted for this sweet girl who had a quick, warm smile for everyone. If she didn’t cook, then so what? If she took good care of Solomon, then nothing else should matter, though she hoped that Phoebe wanted children. Lately, Sunja wanted to hold babies. How wonderful it would be not to have to worry about a war or having enough food to eat, or finding shelter. Solomon and Phoebe wouldn’t have to labor the way she and Kyunghee had, but could just enjoy their children.





Sho ga nai, sho ga nai. How many times had he heard these words? It cannot be helped. His mother had apparently hated that expression, and suddenly he understood her rage against this cultural resignation that violated her beliefs and wishes.



It was not Hansu that she missed, or even Isak. What she was seeing again in her dreams was her youth, her beginning, and her wishes—so this was how she became a woman. Without Hansu and Isak and Noa, there wouldn’t have been this pilgrimage to this land. Beyond the dailiness, there had been moments of shimmering beauty and some glory, too, even in this ajumma’s life. Even if no one knew, it was true.

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