List 5

Secret agent Henry Park is torn between his American identity and his Korean heritage.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. indomitable
    impossible to subdue
    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.
  2. subdue
    hold within limits and control
    The larger ggeh depend solely on this notion, that the lessons of the culture will be stronger than a momentary lack, can subdue any individual weakness or want.
  3. engender
    call forth
    This the power lovely and terrible, what we try to engender in Kwang’s giant money club, our huge ggeh for all.
    "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.
  4. chit
    the bill in a restaurant
    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.
    "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.
  5. implore
    beg or request earnestly and urgently
    "Look, look,” he implored her, crouched, slapping the pavement with both hands. “This is an American street.”
  6. lore
    knowledge gained through tradition or anecdote
    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.
    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.
  7. marginal
    of questionable or minimal quality
    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.
  8. languorous
    lacking spirit or liveliness
    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.
  9. scrupulous
    characterized by extreme care and great effort
    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.
    "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."
  10. savvy
    marked by practical hardheaded intelligence
    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.
    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.
  11. dais
    a platform raised above the surrounding level
    He would stride the daises and the stages with his voice strong and clear, unafraid to speak the language like a Puritan and like a Chinaman and like every boat person in between.
  12. fitful
    intermittently stopping and starting
    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.
  13. sonorous
    full and loud and deep
    They speak to me, as John Kwang could always, not simply in new accents or notes but in the ancient untold music of a newcomer’s heart, sonorous with longing and hope.
  14. endure
    face and withstand with courage
    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.
  15. exploit
    use or manipulate to one's advantage
    My ugly immigrant’s truth, as was his, is that I have exploited my own, and those others who can be exploited.
  16. brethren
    the lay members of a male religious order
    We are your most perilous and dutiful brethren, the song of our hearts at once furious and sad.
    "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.
  17. hospitality
    kindness in welcoming guests or strangers
    The police believe that she is a “ hospitality girl,” which the newspaper says is a type of Asian prostitute.
  18. unceasingly
    without stopping
    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.
  19. resolute
    firm in purpose or belief
    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.
  20. meager
    deficient in amount or quality or extent
    And when I consider him, I see how my father had to retool his life to the ambitions his meager knowledge of the language and culture would allow, invent again the man he wanted to be.
  21. majestic
    having or displaying great dignity or nobility
    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.
  22. iconic
    relating to a symbolic figure
    Or most simply, he is representative, easily drawn and iconic, the idea being if you know him you can know a whole people.
    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.
  23. vital
    urgently needed; absolutely necessary
    He didn’t know who was an “illegal” and who was not, for he would never come to see that fact as something vital.
  24. forlorn
    marked by or showing hopelessness
    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.
  25. asylum
    a shelter from danger or hardship
    Most of them will probably be declined asylum, and there will be appeals, and it will take many months until in the end they’re sent back.”
  26. patois
    a characteristic language of a particular group
    He’d keep me guessing with his storefront patois.
  27. stilted
    artificially formal or stiff
    We listen to the earnest attempts of their talk, the bits of their stilted English.
  28. chorale
    a stately Protestant (especially Lutheran) hymn tune
    This is a city of words.
    We live here. In the street the shouting is in a language we hardly know. The strangest chorale.
  29. monger
    someone who 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.
  30. serendipitous
    lucky in making unexpected and fortunate discoveries
    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.
    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.
Created on August 6, 2013 (updated August 1, 2018)

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