This example sentence is the epigraph ("a quotation at the beginning of some piece of writing"): it lays out the major theme about the difficulties of figuring out one's individual identity because it is entangled with the past and the identities of others. This sounds like a theme for a memoir, and although the novel is written in the first-person, readers need to extricate the identity of the author from that of his fictionalized main character.
I turn but do not extricate myself,
Confused, a past-reading, another,
but with darkness yet.
conducted with or marked by hidden aims or methods
"Surreptitious" also means "marked by quiet and caution and secrecy"--this is a fitting description of Henry Park, which could be a result of how his Korean immigrant parents raised him in America. But by the time he met Lelia, he was already working for a company that required him to have hidden aims and methods. Both his background and his job contribute to his surreptitiousness.
You are surreptitious
B + student of life
first thing hummer of Wagner and Strauss
A sentimentalist is one who "indulges in excessive sentimentality"--the excess would make the emotions seem insincere. "Sentimental" also means "marked by tender, romantic, or nostalgic emotion" and this could apply as a direct contrast to the next description on the list, similar to how "great in bed" is followed by "overrated."
Yellow peril: neo-American
great in bed
_____analyst (you fill in)
"Venerable" also means "impressive by reason of age"--in the Confucian ordering, age is venerable because it comes with experience and wisdom. But a father is also venerated because of the roles he has in creating, providing for, and protecting the family. Henry recognizes this, but he has trouble venerating his own father, and this is reflected in the phrases "slave-son" and "long-dead god" which sandwich "venerable father" and give it a mocking tone.
I know all about that fine and terrible ordering, how it variously casts you as the golden child, the slave-son or daughter, the venerable father, the long-dead god.
having existed from the beginning; in an earliest or original stage or state
Maybe she thought certain clues would arise from the primordial pool to make sense of our eventual difficulties. Were there traits or habits of personality that we had too readily dismissed, too easily obliged?
"Mundane" means "found in the ordinary course of events"--a historian who's focused on the mundane would be prodigal, because historians are supposed to make sense of important events/people, in order to shed light on patterns of humanity. But Henry is not a true historian, since his job is to focus on one individual's daily life, and his reports serve to undermine rather than unite.
I could never simply ignore it, put it off, and I would rise and in half-sleep drift about the darkness of the large apartment, inexplicably checking the corners and the closets for things out of the ordinary, an unmatched shoe, a coat fallen from a hanger, a tie I didn’t recognize, those tiny marks of what can go on while you sleep.
the metaphysical study of the nature of being and existence
It was an extraordinarily extensive “story” of who we were, an autobiography as such, often evolving to develop even the minutiae of life experience, countless facts and figures, though it also required a truthful ontological bearing, a certain presence of character.
Notice the three Rs for Henry: retreat, reiterate, and revise. These are significant because he is a non-native speaker whose first language of Korean does not have separate sounds for L and R. Although Henry is describing what he normally does when one of his undercover operations is falling apart, it is also a fitting description of how he has behaved and developed throughout his life.
Normally I would have ceased matters temporarily, retreated to Westchester to reiterate and revise.
But inexplicably I began stringing the legend back upon myself. I was no longer extrapolating; I was looping it through the core, freely talking about my life, suddenly breaching the confidences of my father and my mother and my wife.
"Glimmer" also means "a slight suggestion or vague understanding"--both definitions fit, since the name of Henry's company is meant to deceive. If pushed, Henry would give a description of his job that only gives a glimmer of truth. In truth, the light they provide envelops individual people, and they do not consult their clients on how to proceed with the information, in order to pretend they're not responsible for what happens.
We occupied the top floor, under the name of Glimmer & Company.
If you pushed us on it, if you were insistent, if you caught us alone in an elevator or on the back of an airplane or in a motel-bar lounge, we were consultants of ambient lighting to military installations.
showing or affected by prejudice or envy or distaste
"Jaundiced" also means "affected by yellowing of the skin"--this word choice emphasizes the characters' Korean heritage, despite Henry's distaste of how the language was used in his father's inveterate ("habitual") way of trying to belittle him.
He said (my jaundiced translation of his Korean) that he didn’t want me becoming an anxious boy, as if he knew all of my panic buttons, that craphound, inveterate sucker-puncher, that damned machine.
In truth, Lelia’s own eventual list was probably just karmic justice for what I made him endure those final nights, which was my berating him for the way he had conducted his life with my mother, and then his housekeeper, and his businesses and beliefs, to speak once and for all the less than holy versions of who he was.
an appeal to some supernatural power to inflict evil on someone or some group
And the single-minded determination that had propelled him through twenty-five years of green-grocering in a famous ghetto of America would serve him a few last days, and through any of my meager execrations.
"Abject" also means "most unfortunate or miserable" and "showing utter resignation or hopelessness" and "showing humiliation or submissiveness"--all the definitions fit, depending on whether the perspective is from the younger Henry (who had no control over his father's life or the shame he felt) or the older Henry reflecting on his younger self (who is ashamed at having felt ashamed of his father).
What belief did I ever hold in my father, whose daily life I so often ridiculed and looked upon with such abject shame?
marked by extreme intensity of emotions or convictions; inclined to react violently; fervid
When I first told him that we were engaged I thought he would vehemently protest, again go over the scores of reasons why I should marry one of our own (as he had rambled on in my adolescence), but he only nodded and said he respected her and wished me luck.