"Sentient" also means "endowed with feeling and unstructured consciousness"--while this description could fit Henry when he's out in the field trying to connect to his subjects, when he writes his reports, he is not using or expressing any feelings of his own, because he has to focus simply on putting down the details of what he'd perceived.
I am to be a clean writer, of the most reasonable eye, and present the subject in question like some sentient machine of transcription.
"Inclination" is an antonym of "aversion"--Henry can uncover these feelings from observations of physical postures ("aversion" also means "the act of turning yourself or your gaze away" and "inclination" also means "bending forward"), but he would need to confirm their existence by intentionally invoking his subject's speech or action.
I will uncover and invoke inclinations and aversions.
incapable of being repudiated or transferred to another
And I will build all these up into the daily log of his life, into a secret book of personality that I care nothing for except that I necessarily remember everything in it, every voice and detail, and then remember again all of the books before, of Luzan and the others, those inalienable texts the blocks of a cruel palace of memory in which I now live.
"Prolific" also means "intellectually productive"--while this adjective often applies to a writer of many works, it does not apply to the writing that Henry did about Kwang, which he describes as "vague and aimless reporting." The prolific nature of his writing was simply a poor attempt (it didn't fool his boss) to conceal the fact that he was having trouble profiling Kwang.
I was prolific, however, I wrote other pieces, entire tracts on him, tones and notes of him, but nothing I could use.
And soon I’d find myself knotted into a hard coil in the bed, the points of my knees jabbing back the stabs of worry in my stomach and chest, and I wondered if in the morning after I left the house for the long walk to school he would be there for me, at my flank again, that comely wall of him, talking his trash and his resplendence, talking me up, too, talking my story.
"Evasive" also means "avoiding or escaping from difficulty or danger"--this would not apply to a boss who never goes out into the field himself. Dennis Hoagland evades Henry's questions by being cryptic ("of an obscure nature" and "having a puzzling terseness"--these definitions, when applied to Hoagland's speech, are synonymous with "deliberately vague or ambiguous").
I didn’t know anything at the time; Dennis had been as cryptic and evasive as ever, Jack professing nothing.
"Sunder" ("break apart or in two, using violence") does not sound like a merciful action. But here, it means that Kwang's family could've been forcefully separated from each other, which would've been merciful compared to what actually happened: their bodies were physically obliterated and their village was historically obliterated ("removed completely from recognition or memory").
I want to tell them that what they have here is a man named John Kwang, born in Seoul before the last world war, a boy during the Korean one, his family not mercifully sundered or refugeed but obliterated, the coordinates of his home village twice removed from the maps.
She wonders, in turn, if this dead immigrant had ever reconsidered the generic still-life of apples he’d hung in the upstairs hall, had ever touched again the bouquet of wooden roses placed on the tank of his toilet, had ever comfortably worn the reams of clothes in his closet, the rack filled with the suits and shoes he would buy on his days off but never wore anywhere.
Is it the coldness of objects, she wonders, that persists. She considers her own apartment, the bed she shares with her husband; she tries to think of the things there that might signify him, call his real name.
a state of deterioration due to old age or long use
For a man like Stew, "decrepitude" would mean "obsolescence" ("falling into disuse or becoming out of date"), because a lot of his power, whether to intimidate other men or attract women, comes from being tall, angular, and trim.
He’s just begun to feel the sadness of growing old, if that’s what it is. Decrepitude, obsolescence.
fundamentally different or distinct in quality or kind
Mitt was beginning to appreciate the differences in the three of us; he could mimic the finest gradations in our English and Korean, those notes of who we were, and perhaps he could imagine, if ever briefly, that this was our truest world, rich with disparate melodies.
He used to tell us how the kid, named Dylan or Dean, had “the hugest muscles,” and when I see that kid now I understand the proportion Mitt’s eyes must have been measuring, I can see the creamy flesh of a nine-year-old bully, the brutish, magical pall he must have cast.
The explosion is nothing to speak of, nothing special, they believe no plastique was used, no deep electronics, just a stick or two of dynamite, a model airplane battery for detonation, a few rounds of duct tape.
The late money says it’s the Indians, who so despise Korean competition, it’s the Jews envious of new Korean money, Chinese hateful of Korean communality, blacks who want something, anything of justice, it’s the uneasy coalition of our colors, that oldest strife of city and alley and schoolyard.
"Pliancy" also means "adaptability of mind and character"--this quality could've applied to Kwang when he was a new immigrant, and it might've applied to him as a rising politician, but here, Kwang has lost his physical pliancy, and Henry later discovers that Kwang's prideful nature doesn't enjoy being as pliant as Sherrie and Jenkins want him to be.
I see his posture as somehow broken, there’s not his familiar pliancy and spring at a public appearance, his steely poise among the crowds, the drive pooled up in his fists, the huge voice, the miracle forcefulness.