I couldn’t really review this book before I had reviewed Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. For better or for worse, both novels are really linked in my mind. When Pachinko told of the lives of Korean people who came to live in Japan at the beginning of the 20th century and stopped in the 1980s with the fourth generation, Go picks up a bit later (it was published in 2000) and tells of a teenaged Zainichi growing up in contemporary Japan. Needless to say, the difficulties and racism he faces has a lot in common with what the characters in Pachinko experienced.
The tone of the two novels couldn’t be more different. Where Pachinko was quiet, dignified and polite, Go has the tumult of emotions of a teenager. Go’s hero and narrator Sugihara is not afraid to fight. He faces bullies head (and fists) first and chooses for himself a non-Korean high-school where he will face more racism but get better opportunities. He’s a thug sometimes, but a nerd at other times. He looks at his parents with ironic distance and there are really funny moments at the beginning. And then he falls in love with a girl who has been raised to despise Korean people…
If I hadn’t read Pachinko, I would have had difficulty to appreciate Go so much. I guess it’s a flaw of the novel, but the social context was what interested me most in the book, instead of the doomed love story that felt a bit “meh”. The interesting point that I have learnt is that Zainichi are treated differently if they are North-Koreans or South-Koreans, and that Zainichi can go to Korean schools, which is a double bind because the education there is not top-notch, and prepares kids for menial jobs and more discrimination, while seemingly protecting their cultural identity and protecting them from bullying.
I don’t think this book will appeal to a wide audience but it was charming to me. I could see the same resilience I had admired in Pachinko, but this time played out with a lighter tone.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.