"Year of Impossible Goodbyes" by Sook Nyul Choi, Chapter 1

After suffering under the Japanese occupation of Korea during World War II and the subsequent rule by communist Russia, Sookan and her family attempt a daring escape to South Korea.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Chapter 1, Chapters 2–4, Chapters 5–6, Chapter 7–Epilogue
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Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. furrow
    a long shallow trench in the ground
    The high mounds of snow in the corner of our yard had begun to melt, the water flowing gently into the furrow of dark earth Grandfather had dug around the base of the tree like a moat.
  2. emanate
    proceed or issue forth, as from a source
    Grandfather’s tree stood alone in the far corner of the yard, its dark green-needled branches emanating harmoniously from the trunk, reaching out like a large umbrella.
  3. harmonious
    exhibiting equivalence or correspondence among constituents
    Grandfather’s tree stood alone in the far corner of the yard, its dark green-needled branches emanating harmoniously from the trunk, reaching out like a large umbrella.
  4. respite
    a relief from harm or discomfort
    The warmth of the spring sun and the thawing of the icy snow brought no respite from the oppressiveness that engulfed us.
  5. oppressive
    weighing heavily on the senses or spirit
    The warmth of the spring sun and the thawing of the icy snow brought no respite from the oppressiveness that engulfed us.
  6. exhilaration
    the feeling of lively and cheerful joy
    Grandfather, hoping the Korean people might experience the exhilaration and beauty of spring again, had made sure my mother included the word chun, or spring, in the names of each of my brothers.
  7. benevolent
    intending or showing kindness
    My oldest brother’s name was Hanchun, meaning “Korean spring”; my second brother, Jaechun, was called “spring again”; my third brother, Hyunchun, the “wise spring”; and my youngest brother, Inchun, the “ benevolent spring.”
  8. reluctantly
    with a certain degree of unwillingness
    Reluctantly, she brought out a clean straw mat and unrolled it beneath the pine tree, placing the thick cushion in the center of the shade.
  9. flit
    move along rapidly and lightly; skim or dart
    The gentle rays of the April sun flitting through the pine branches played upon his face like dancing fairies.
  10. permeate
    spread or diffuse through
    The smell of the pine permeated the atmosphere, and I breathed deeply.
  11. billow
    rise and move, as in waves
    With a few fluid strokes, his brush created an island of billowy clouds hovering over the mountains.
  12. preside
    act as executive officer
    Presiding over rain and water, the dragon works to save the crops during times of drought and bring abundance and prosperity to the people.
  13. abundance
    the property of a more than adequate quantity or supply
    Presiding over rain and water, the dragon works to save the crops during times of drought and bring abundance and prosperity to the people.
  14. spare
    save or relieve from an experience or action
    Mother kept hoping that the war would end, and that at least Inchun and I would be spared from attending Japanese school.
  15. wiry
    lean but strong
    Later that morning, Captain Narita came walking through the gate. He paced about the yard, his sword hanging from his small wiry frame.
  16. probe
    question or examine thoroughly and closely
    His thick gold-rimmed glasses magnified his cold probing glance.
  17. epaulet
    an ornamental cloth pad worn on the shoulder
    The sun reflected off the handle of his sword, the rims of his glasses, and his gold and red epaulets.
  18. disdain
    lack of respect accompanied by a feeling of intense dislike
    A smile played upon his lips as he examined us with apparent disdain.
  19. unconditional
    not qualified by reservations
    It was considered a serious offense even to look at the Imperial police; Koreans were expected to keep their heads bowed and obey orders unconditionally.
  20. flank
    be located at the sides of something or somebody
    Flanked by his two ever-present lieutenants, he strode toward the sock factory.
  21. whittle
    cut small bits or pare shavings from
    As usual, she carried her bag from which the wooden knitting needles Grandfather had whittled for her poked out.
  22. delicacy
    something considered choice to eat
    Haiwon loved the millet cakes and ate them as if they were the most delicious delicacies.
  23. intently
    with strained or eager attention
    Mother saw me listening intently, and shot a disapproving glance at Aunt Tiger.
  24. fateful
    ominously prophetic
    At precisely eight o’clock, the loud clanging filled the air. How sad I was when Kisa rang that fateful bell.
  25. frenetic
    excessively agitated
    The spools of thread spun frenetically as the needles of the machines bobbed up and down.
  26. skein
    coils of worsted yarn
    It amazed me to see the skeins of thread hanging in midair, suspended by wires strung across the ceiling.
  27. quota
    a prescribed number
    The girls raced against time to meet their quotas.
  28. temperament
    your usual mood
    But he had a very pleasant broad forehead, which Mother said was a sign of a generous heart, and he had a handsome nose, a sign of an even temperament, Mother said.
  29. callus
    cause a thick or hard area of skin to form on
    Her long thin fingers were dry and chapped, and full of callused needle marks.
  30. cultivate
    prepare for crops
    We were not allowed to spend time cultivating the garden anymore.
  31. dainty
    delicately beautiful
    Once, when we did manage to have a tiny patch of flowers, Captain Narita’s police stepped through them as they grinned broadly. There was nothing we could do but watch as the dainty flowers were crushed beneath their ugly boots.
  32. brittle
    having little elasticity
    Each time I opened the carefully wrapped packets, the paper in which they were wrapped seemed more yellow and brittle.
  33. pestle
    a hand tool for grinding and mixing substances in a mortar
    I can still remember years ago when Mother picked the wilted clusters of bright crimson azalea petals from our little garden. In a bowl, she gently ground the petals with a pestle until they turned into a fragrant red paste.
  34. venture
    proceed somewhere despite the risk of possible dangers
    I had once told Aunt Tiger about my pretty pink nails, hoping that she and I could venture out and plant a secret garden somewhere.
  35. stocky
    having a short and solid form or stature
    She was very different from Mother, who was tall, slender, and elegant. Aunt Tiger was stocky and round.
  36. pensive
    showing deep sadness
    At night Aunt usually grew sad and pensive.
  37. tarnish
    make or become dirty or spotty
    Then she reached back to pull out the tarnished pin that held her braided hair in a large twisted knot at the nape of her neck.
  38. nape
    the back side of the neck
    Then she reached back to pull out the tarnished pin that held her braided hair in a large twisted knot at the nape of her neck.
  39. emboss
    raise in a relief
    Though it looked like a cheap piece of metal, it was actually a beautifully crafted silver hairpin. When I looked closely, I could see a multitude of embossed little roses and small birds flying.
  40. revel
    take delight in
    I held it in my palm, and reveled in its cool smoothness.

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