Jimin: Sixteen years old in 1950, he spent his first eleven years on Ockdo, a remote island in the South Sea of Korea. He lived in Hadong, near the southern seacoast, with his grandfather’s extended family for one and a half years, then moved to Seoul with his mother and sister.
Sora: She lived in America for seven years and came back to Korea in 1946 at the age of twelve. She went to an elite high school in Seoul, but the war brought disaster to her family.
Sinman: Twenty-five years old in 1950, he is known to be a bastard son of the Hadong police chief, but with more complicated relationships.
Misern: Born on Ockdo, she is Jimin’s little sister, nine years younger than him. Jimin loves and cares deeply about her.
Bark Sangwon: He is Jimin’s father. He grew up in Hadong and went to Teacher’s College in Seoul. After getting married in 1927, he and his friends tried to establish a communal farm on Ockdo, his ancestral island. But a conflict with the Japanese authorities thwarted them, and he went to fight the Japanese in Manchuria. After the Second World War he moved his family from Ockdo to his hometown Hadong, intending to settle there, but his involvement in a riot a year later changed everything for him and his family.
In communist occupied Seoul in 1950, Jimin lives in a rented room with his mother and his little sister. Stricken with food shortages and the fear of interior workers—the new ragtag police—he yearns to go back to the safety of his old home on Ockdo (Jade Island), the remote island he had left five years earlier. But the only person who could take his family back to their island is his father, who is absent.
Three weeks after the communist occupation, Sinman comes to Jimin’s home with a badly wounded fugitive. Sinman is a bastard son of the police chief of Hadong, the hometown of Jimin’s father near the southern seacoast; powerful and rich, the police chief’ clan is in a deep-rooted feud with Jimin’s family. Yet Sinman has befriended Jimin. The wounded man was born on Ockdo and is the son of Jimin’s father’s best friend. After hiding him in the shed, Jimin’s mother goes out to get medicine for him.
Sinman had helped his police chief father get rid of his enemies behind the scenes, and come to Seoul with a scheme to take Jimin’s island, which, according to his father, should be Sinman’s. Trapped in Seoul because the fleeing southern army had blown up the bridge south of the city, Sinman hides his true identity and becomes an interior worker. One day Jimin’s mother comes across him while he is carrying out his duties. Later a clerk at the interior station threatens to expose his identity and Sinman bribes him to keep quiet. He suspects that Jimin’s mother is spreading the word about his past and decides to eliminate her, Jimin, and his sister. Harboring a fugitive is a severe crime and bringing the wounded man to her is part of Sinman’s ploy.
From the wounded man, Hoon, Jimin learns that his father is in his hometown, Hadong, unable to walk with a leg injury, but that he will come to Seoul when his leg heals and take his family back to Ockdo. Jimin anxiously waits all day for his mother to come home, but night falls with his sister very ill. Then, around three in the morning, Jimin finds Hoon dead and buries him in the flowerbed in the courtyard.
*** A paragraph intentionally omitted ***
Two weeks later, while Jimin is waiting for his father, one of Sinman’s associates evicts him and Misern from their room and tries to send them to a labor camp in North Korea. While being escorted, Jimin manages to kill the man, escapes Seoul, and sets off on foot toward Hadong, 250 miles south, with his seven-year-old sister.