A Gesture Life

The characters

Doc (Franklin) Hata

The figure of Doc Hata functions as the narrator and tells every part of the story through his eyes. He tells us not only about his time in Bedley Run, but also very briefly about his childhood, then about his time in World War II, and also about his time with his daughter Sunny. He does not tell all these events in chronological order but instead in sporadic episodes. The novel consists of several flashbacks which tell us more about Hata's life and his rituals.

Hata lives in a grand house located in Bedley Run, owned a medical store, and was a medic in World War II. His name is Japanese, but he is an ethnic Korean and was adopted by a childless Japanese couple. He lived his youth on the south-western coast of Japan. He tells us that he was not a nice child, but a difficult one, who was not generous to his foster parents who treated him as considerately as a real son.

He is stationed in Burma in 1944 during the war. He is there as a paramedical officer, field-trained but not formally educated. He is referred to as Lieutenant Jiro Kurohata. In Burma, he is responsible for taking care of the comfort women, who are responsible for maintaining morale and "health". Not only is he responsible for their upkeep, but he also falls in love with one of the girls, Kkutaeh. At this time he thinks that Kkutaeh, referred to by Hata as K, is in love with him, too, but later it becomes clear that this love was unilateral.

In Hata's first years in Bedley Run, he owns a store called Sunny Medical Supply, named after his daughter. He adopts Sunny when she is a young girl. Although he tells everybody that he is a happy father, in reality, he has a lot of problems with her, as he is too generous and too frequently expresses his concerns with her future. He attempts to create a happy family when he meets Mary Burns, but Sunny disapproves. All these things induce Sunny to leave her father.

Doc Hata is a man who lives his life through rituals. He is not fond of the "retirement lifestyle", so he continues his routine day after day. His life motto is "Routine triumphs over everything". Eventually, he breaks his comfortable repetition.


Sunny is the reserved and rebellious daughter of Doc Hata.

As a young girl, she is sent by a Christian Adoption Agency to Hata in the United States. She is immediately uncomfortable. She does not like Hata's house, and later, dislikes her adopted father's behavior. As a teenager, she becomes very difficult and is rarely home. She does not respect anyone, opposing Hata and Mary Burns and even the police. She spends her nights in a disreputable part of town with hoodlums. When Doc Hata becomes aware of her behavior, the two of them fight, and this causes Sunny to permanently leave the house. Sunny is sexually assaulted by one of the men she is living with, and her assailant is stabbed by another housemate in Sunny's defense. She revisits her home with Hata. It soon becomes clear that she and Doc Hata cannot repair their relationship as father and daughter. One event which makes their relationship more strained is when Hata forces Sunny to have an abortion. After this occurs, it is implied that Sunny leaves for good, never to see her father again.

As an adult, Sunny works at the Ebbington Mall as a shop manager. She is 32 when she and Hata meet again. Sunny also has a son, named Thomas, who is almost six years old. Hata tries to do everything to help Sunny, including taking care of Thomas. She accepts that Hata and Thomas spend a lot of time together, but she does not want Thomas to know that Hata is his grandfather. The situation between Hata and Sunny improves towards the end.

Mary Burns

Mary Burns was Hata's neighbor and girlfriend during his middle age. (She dies before the events of the book begin, but much of the past is told in present tense.) She spends a lot of time in the country club of Bedley Run, where she is very socially active. She has two adult daughters who do not live at home and who rarely visit their mother. Her late husband, a doctor, is deceased as well.

She first meets Doc Hata while he was working in his garden. She mistakes Hata for a doctor, like her husband was. After their first meeting, Hata and Mary Burns develop an intimate relationship, as they provide each other company and go out frequently together. Mary Burns spends a lot of time with Sunny, but she fails in coming any closer to her. This and the fact that she is not happy about how Hata treats his daughter ends their relationship. She dies before the events of the book begin.


K, whose real name is Kkutaeh, is an intellectual Korean girl who is brought with her sister as a sex slave (comfort woman) to the camp in which Hata works as medical officer. At home she has two more sisters and one brother.

She is, like all the other girls, placed under Hata's care. Her sister is mercy-killed by a soldier that takes pity on her, who is later executed. A senior officer and head doctor, Captain Ono, takes special interest in K. Captain Ono isolates her from the rest of the camp, locking her in a small storage closet at night. When K is not with Captain Ono, presumably servicing him, she is with Hata in the infirmary. Both men pretend that she is sick during this time so that she can avoid servicing the rest of the camp. Hata falls in love with her after spending a lot of time with her; when Hata tells her this, she accuses him of lying, saying he only wants her for sex. However, she sees Hata's "love" for her as an opportunity, and she asks him to kill her. He refuses to do so, naively believing that she will be able to survive all of this. He is also unable to kill Captain Ono whose attentions and intentions toward K are base in nature.

The love Hata has toward K is one-sided at best. He consummates his love for her while she is sleeping, which he clearly does not view as rape. However, he does hear her cry after he leaves her.

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