The Newhouse Center for the Humanities Brings National Book Award Finalist Min Jin Lee to Wellesley

October 2, 2018
Author Min Jin Lee speaks to a classroom filled with students.

Why is cultural representation important? That’s one question students explored while discussing Min Jin Lee’s 2017 novel Pachinko with the author on September 27 at an event sponsored by the Newhouse Center for the Humanities for members of the Wellesley community.

Pachinko portrays a Korean family whose members end up displaced in Japan after a tumultuous colonization period, a story that resonates in particular with readers who have themselves faced discrimination. “That tension the reader feels for the character is supposed to make you invested in their future. I wanted to convert you, to make you Korean,” Lee explained to a packed room.

The novel, a National Book Award finalist, is now a part of the curriculum of the English, comparative literature, and East Asian languages and cultures (EALC) departments thanks to Korean Student Association member Sandra Chung ’20. She read Pachinko during spring break, then encouraged Yu Jin Ko, professor of English, to read the book and to let his students know about it as well.

But Chung wanted more. “I knew I had to bring Min Jin Lee to Wellesley,” she said.

“Sandra first suggested that we invite Min to celebrate the beginning of our academic year,” said Eve Zimmerman, associate professor of Japanese and the new director of the Newhouse Center. During the summer Chung, Ko, Sun-Hee Lee, professor of Korean and head of EALC, and Zimmerman worked to bring Lee to Wellesley to kick off the Newhouse Center’s fall events lineup.

At the event, after Lee read an excerpt of Pachinko, she answered questions about the book from the audience. For many, the characters’ resolution to remain optimistic despite the institutional racism leveled against them left them perplexed. Lee answered, “I wanted to show people how to love in the face of hate.”

Zimmerman, who this fall also began teaching Pachinko in her EALC course, The Girl in Modern East Asian Culture, remarked, "I haven't ever seen students this excited by historical fiction before."

For more information about upcoming events at the Newhouse Center, please visit its interim website.