In 1932, 16-year-old Sunja is fascinated by Hansee, a debonair Korean who lives in Japan but visits her small village in Korea to buy fish. Sunja has an affair with him, but when she learns she is pregnant, he tells her he has a wife and children in Japan but wants her to be his Korean wife. While realizing she will disgrace her family, she does not agree.
Isak, a frail Christian minister, comes to stay at Sunja’s mother’s boarding house on his way to Japan, but he soon falls ill with tuberculosis. Sunja and her mother Yangjin nurse him back to health. When he understands Sunja’s predicament, he offers to marry her to give her child a father. So, the couple leave for Japan, where the novel follows the fates of them and their descendents for the next fifty plus years.
At the time of the beginning of the novel, Japan ruled Korea, and the Japanese treated the Koreans as second-class citizens in their own country. In Japan, the Koreans are considered dirty and lazy and are forced to live in ghettos. They are discriminated against, and most are not allowed to become citizens even if born there.
This novel is an interesting story about the difficulties Koreans had living in Japan. It is the type of novel that is more interested in what happens to this family, though, than in creating well-rounded characters. I liked it but did not love it.