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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

Mitsusaburo (Mitsu) Nedokoro

The novel is written from the perspective of Mitsusaburo “Mitsu” Medokoro, who is a reliable—though cynical and melancholic—narrator. The last few years have been unkind to the aristocratic young Mitsu and his wife, Natsumi. As a couple, they have endured crisis after crisis, and each has struggled to find ways to cope. When their son is born, they discover that he has severe intellectual and physical disabilities, and as a result, he lives in a special institution apart from them. Mitsu’s best friend dies by suicide, as did his sister. Mitsu and Natsumi reveal their personal characters through the ways in which they cope. Natsumi turns to alcohol and is ultimately unfaithful to Mitsu. Mitsu cannot sustain the weight and pressure of his job as a professor and decides to resign his post. When his brother Taka returns to Japan from abroad, Mitsu agrees to return with him to the village where they were born. There, the two become consumed by researching a peasant revolt led by their great-grandfather’s younger brother in 1860.

Takashi (Taka) Nedokoro

As the stresses of life begin to become too much, Takashi “Taka” Nedokoro arrives on a visit back to Japan from the United States, where he has been working and living. Taka serves as a suspicious and bombastic presence when compared to his brother, Mitsu, who is much more forthcoming, logical, stoic, and reserved. Taka reveals his true character in deceptive and shady business deals, violent behavior, and estranged relationships with family and friends. After selling his family’s homestead in their native village, he invests the money in a football team, and he seduces Mitsu’s wife, Natsumi. By the end of the novel, Taka has organized a riot at a local supermarket, murdered a young woman, and confessed to Mitsu that he repeatedly raped their younger sister, who later died by suicide. Plagued by a sense of responsibility for his sister’s death, Taka, too, chooses suicide.

Natsumi Nedokoro

Natsumi is Mitsu Medokoro’s sensitive, intelligent young wife. Depressed after the birth of her and Mitsu’s child, who was born with severe disabilities, Natsumi began drinking heavily, behavior that Mitsu feels powerless to stop. She eventually sleeps with Taka, her husband’s brother, and becomes pregnant.

Paek Sun-gi (The Emperor)

Paek Sun-gi, a wealthy Korean man known by the nickname “the Emperor,” has a ubiquitous presence in the novel. He owns a chain of supermarkets and is an entrepreneur of sorts, and he eventually buys the Nedokoro homestead. His seedy business practices and willingness to conduct below-board business transactions make him a compelling, though dangerous, associate for Taka, who ultimately stages a riot at one of the Emperor’s supermarkets.

Minor Characters

There are two other siblings within the brothers’ family, who are more ghosts than they are humans, elucidating for readers the secrets and misinformation that sometimes poison family trees. One of these siblings is S, Mitsu and Taka’s deceased older brother; the other is their younger sister, who was intellectually disabled and died by suicide after being repeatedly raped by Taka.

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