Ten dollars a week is what it takes to start, ten dollars for the right of knowing a someone in the city for you who are yet nobody. But then no one, no matter the amount, has his ear over another. It matters only that you give what you can. You give with honor and indomitable spirit.
"Engender" also means "make children"--while this definition doesn't directly apply to the use of the word in the example sentence, it hints at Kwang's ulterior motive for starting the ggeh: it allows him to feel like the father of a huge, always growing family that needs him and is grateful to him for providing the means to realize their dreams.
This the power lovely and terrible, what we try to engender in Kwang’s giant money club, our huge ggeh for all.
"Chit" simply means receipt or IOU note, which would be an informal version of a contract--neither of which is required to participate in the ggeh. This focus on speech and interaction makes the monetary transactions seem more personal and urgent. Additionally, chits and contracts would not help the participants, since many are new or illegal immigrants who cannot read or write English and who would not be able to use the documents in court.
Everything is in private, we deal like family, among ourselves, without chits or contracts. This is why I must see your face, hear your voice, make certain that you live how you say.
Here, "lore" has more of a mythical quality rather than any factual knowledge. Henry mocks his father's telling of a classic immigrant story that starts with very little money and English, but through hard work and resourcefulness, ends with success. The truth is that his father was helped by a large sum of cash from his participation in a ggeh.
I thought she was just romancing him, kindly playing to his mostly self-promoting immigrant lore, but later she’d showed Mitt, too, kneeling down beside him to watch the men and women busy in the street.
I almost hear their voices as I open the envelopes, the stiff new bills that rush in to us in even greater tides now that he is publicly troubled, sounding out in marginal English their love for him, their devotion.
I don’t know any of his songs, but it’s the same register my mother used to hum while doing the housework, a languorous baritone, the most Korean range, low enough for our gut of sadness, high for the wonder of chance, good luck.
"Scrupulous" also means "having ethical or moral principles"--this would not apply to the way Helda wrapped the Korean foodstuffs, and it does not apply to how Henry relates to the foods, but it is suggested when Henry saw "Jenkins suspiciously tap one of the jars with his size sixteen wing tip, checking for signs of life."
All of it was scrupulously sealed and double-wrapped but it didn’t do any good. The smell is still Korean, irreparably so, cousin to that happy stink of my mother’s breath.
the cognitive condition of someone who understands
Here, "savvy" is closer to the meaning of "shrewdness" (which can connect to understanding but often includes tricking people in order to get something). Most politicians are savvy in a shrewd way, but here, Henry describes Kwang as being without savvy, which does not mean that Kwang does not understand what he's doing, but that he is singing and speaking with genuine emotions.
He has sung whole love songs to the cynical crowds, told tall stories of courage and honor, doing all this without any mythic display, without savvy, almost embarrassing the urban throng.
Within every echo from a city storefront or window, I can hear the old laments of my mother and my father, and mine as a confused schoolboy, and then even the fitful mumblings of our Ahjuhma, the instant American inventions of her tongue.
If anything, I think my father would choose to see my deceptions in a rigidly practical light, as if they were similar to that daily survival he came to endure, the need to adapt, assume an advantageous shape.
(plural) the lay members of a male religious order
"Brethren" is the archaic plural of "brother" but in the modern sense, it can apply to all members of humanity, regardless of gender or religion. Henry's focus is uniting minority (particularly Asian) immigrants with white, native Americans. But he warns that this relationship can be perilous because immigrants will study the language and practices of native Americans, and in doing so, dismantle, compare and question.
We are your most perilous and dutiful brethren, the song of our hearts at once furious and sad.
She imparts a formality and respect to their statements, and they seem to be interviewing for a position rather than telling their story, unceasingly nodding and bowing and grinning exuberantly with the joy of their good fortune. They keep repeating the words America and new life.
firm in purpose or belief; characterized by firmness and determination
What I dread most is the feeling that might come out in him on his return, the expression of self-loss and self-doubt on a face that I have known as almost unblemished, resolute, magically unweathered by strife and time.
He came to know that the sky was never the limit, that the truer height for him was more like a handful of vegetable stores that would eventually run themselves, making him enough money that he could live in a majestic white house in Westchester and call himself a rich man.
relating to or having the characteristics on an icon
An icon can be a simple image, a symbolic image, or the image of a sacred Christian figure. Although Henry is talking about a general targeted subject for the company, he is also referring to Kwang. In the public eye, Kwang seems to have been an icon in all three ways. To Henry, Kwang is no longer iconic in any way, because he has seen too much and knows too many of the flaws of the real man.
Or most simply, he is representative, easily drawn and iconic, the idea being if you know him you can know a whole people.
And yet I can never stop considering the pitch and drift of their forlorn boats on the sea, the movements that must be endless, promising nothing to their numbers within, headlong voyages scaled in a lyric of search, like the great love of Solomon.
someone who purchases and maintains an inventory of goods to be sold
We pass by the throngs of mongers, carefully nodding and heeding the signs. Everyone sounds angry and theatrical. Completely out of time. They want you to buy something, or hawk what you have, or else shove off.
lucky in making unexpected and fortunate discoveries
The pile of goods they had each discovered throughout the store is as serendipitous as the "family accident"--since Henry had unexpectedly met Lelia at a party, and their marriage led to a quick and unexpected pregnancy that produced a son that made them feel lucky and happy to be parents. This is a huge contrast to the dog pile that resulted in the accidental death of Mitt. This contrast emphasizes the message that racial harmony is often challenged and destroyed, but it can be achieved.
Eventually I’d hear Lelia’s voice, calling to both of us, calling the only English to be heard that day in the store, and we would meet again at the register with what we wanted, the three of us, looking like a family accident, gathering on the counter the most serendipitous pile.