Summary: Chapter 11

Doc Hata has spent the day with his grandson. He took Tommy on a shopping spree, and though Sunny was a bit annoyed by how many toys Doc Hata bought him, she also clearly appreciated her son’s good mood. When he dropped Tommy off at the mall, Doc Hata felt caught off guard by the emotions that swept through him when he shook his grandson’s hand goodbye. He strained to keep a straight face as he left, and once he was out of the store, he wondered if he was too late to play a significant role in either Tommy’s or Sunny’s life. Yet he also felt like a young man again, experiencing a mixture of possibility and vulnerability that he had always dreaded.

In the parking lot, he watched as the same Middle Eastern-looking group who had opened the Halloween store the previous week now packed up their wares. He noticed a teenaged boy and girl inside the shop. While the girl diligently folded various pieces of cloth, the boy messed around and interrupted her work. She wrapped a cloth over her head like a veil, and the boy looked confused. Doc Hata thought he understood the meaning of her act: she repelled the boy’s insults by disappearing.

The girl’s cloth reminded Doc Hata of a similar textile that had belonged to Kkutaeh. His mind returned to the time just after Corporal Endo’s execution. Captain Ono placed K in Doc Hata’s care, fearing that she might be suicidal after her sister’s murder. Ono instructed Doc Hata to keep K safely detained in the infirmary until he requested her presence. Ono said he’d place a black flag on the infirmary door to let Doc Hata know when he wanted to see K. Doc Hata recognized that Ono’s choice of signal referenced his adopted surname, Kurohata, which means “black flag.”

On his morning walk, Doc Hata recalled how he’d felt uneasy the previous night seeing all the men line up, waiting for their turn with one of the girls. After the first full evening in the comfort house, one girl was swollen, bleeding, and could barely walk. Though he wanted to keep her in the infirmary for a few days, he had to give her only the minimal treatment required to ensure she could return to the house as soon as possible.

Continuing to walk around camp, Doc Hata considered how the present moment takes on a “superreality,” and he imagined time coming to a stop so that all things “might remain just so, unto themselves, as it were, peaceable and unmolested.” These thoughts kept Doc Hata from thinking about Endo, but he still worried about failing his community as Endo had done.

Doc Hata encountered Captain Ono, who appeared angry and was dragging K along behind him. He explained that Colonel Ishii had sent K away because she was menstruating. After chastising Doc Hata for not catching the issue, Ono left K in his care.

Doc Hata escorted K to the infirmary where he allowed her to clean herself. K spoke to him for the first time, commenting on Doc Hata’s unusually fluent Korean and noting that his voice sounded like her brother’s. K told him that she sensed that he was different from the other men in the camp.

She also informed Doc Hata that Ono had kept her from working in the comfort house, and she said she’d rather die than have to go there. Doc Hata felt shocked by Ono’s actions, and he wondered what the man was up to. But to K he merely said that Ono must have alternative plans for her, and he noted that, like everyone else at the camp, her destiny was uncertain.

K said she was glad that Endo had killed her sister, and she asked Doc Hata to help her commit suicide. Doc Hata ignored her words and inwardly agreed with Ono’s command that K be confined. However, since the storage room in the infirmary was too hot and had no ventilation, he decided not to lock her up but simply to stay in the infirmary with her. Gradually, he felt more and more drawn to her presence.

Analysis: Chapter 11

The affection Doc Hata feels for Tommy conjures a sensation of fear that reminds him of the mixture of possibility and vulnerability that he had once experienced in the war. The particular mixture of emotions that Doc Hata recognizes takes a contradictory form. Whereas the feeling of possibility comes with sensations of warmth, expansiveness, and openness to the unknown, the feeling of vulnerability brings sensations of coldness, shrinking, and fear of the unknown. Doc Hata feels both of these emotions at the same time, indicating a simultaneous desire for something and a fear that he might ultimately lose that thing. In the novel’s present time, he at once longs to have Tommy in his life and recoils from the worry that Tommy will be taken away from him, possibly by Sunny. These contradictory sensations of possibility and vulnerability also plagued Doc Hata during the war, when he and his comrades in arms believed they fought to defend the future of an Asian way of life yet knew well they might never see that future, either because of they might die in the fight or because their side might lose the war.

Captain Ono’s choice to use a black flag as a signal for communicating with Doc Hata functions as an ill omen. As Doc Hata explains, his adoptive parents’ Japanese surname, Kurohata, means “black flag.” His adoptive family belonged to an ancient lineage of apothecaries who would enter villages that had been struck by contagions and attempt to stop the spread of death. The family earned the name Kurohata from the black flag that a village would raise to warn outsiders of the contagion and signal a need for aid from the apothecaries. Given the history of the Kurohata name and its link to a visible sign of death and distress, Ono’s choice to use a black flag in his communications with Doc Hata bodes ill in two specific ways. The first relates to the narrative. Ono’s black flag suggests the possibility that death awaits in the near future. The second relates to Doc Hata’s character. The symbolic meaning of his name suggests that Doc Hata himself is like a black flag that brings bad luck, and possibly even death, to others.

Doc Hata’s experience of the camp as a “superreality” echoes the desire he’s expressed elsewhere to stop time or focus on the present. During his walk through the camp, Doc Hata feels overcome by a sense that everything in his vicinity, no matter how ordinary, is completely and fully itself. He accounts for this sense of a supercharged reality by noting that in wartime, when fighting could resume at any moment, every moment has a fullness that normal life might otherwise lack. For Doc Hata, such a momentary sensation of fullness brings a feeling of peace, and he recalls wanting time to stop so that he could remain enveloped in the fullness of the moment. Elsewhere in the novel, Doc Hata has voiced a similar desire for time to slow down or stop. In Chapter 4, for instance, he wished for time to halt so he could more thoroughly enjoy Veronica Como’s company. He also considered the perfection of the present moment during his conversation with Renny. Ironically, though these heightened experiences of the present first came to him long ago, Doc Hata now uses his focus on the present to avoid thoughts about the past.

The shock Doc Hata expresses when he learns that Ono has kept K from being raped in the comfort house demonstrates his belief in the traditional Japanese value of self-respect. According to Doc Hata, the real problem with Ono’s conduct is that it damages his reputation as an authority figure in the camp. He explains that the Japanese understanding of self-respect emphasizes the efforts one should make in order to be respected by his comrades. Captain Ono has failed to make any efforts to preserve his reputation in the community. Much like Corporal Endo, whose murder of K’s sister deprived the other soldiers of the “comforts” the girl was sent to provide, Ono has reserved K for his own pleasures and so denied the other men in the camp her services. The fact that Doc Hata emphasizes the damage to Ono’s reputation demonstrates how deeply ingrained the value of self-respect already was in his youth. And although the war has now been over for decades, Doc Hata’s ongoing preoccupation with his reputation demonstrates that he continues to hold tight to the traditional Japanese value of self-respect.