Lee then takes us backward and forward in time. filling in Hector and June's stories. We learn about Hector's childhood with an alcoholic father, his experience in the Korean War, and his meeting with June on the road in Korea. Having received a less-than-honorable discharge, Hector has decided to stay in Korea and work at an orphanage, where June also takes up residence. Both become enamored with Sylvie Tanner, wife of the new head of the orphanage. Sylvie, too, is deeply damaged, having seen her missionary parents tortured and killed by Japanese soldiers in Manchuria in 1934. Sylvie is a heroin addict who obsessively reads J. H. Dunant's A Memory of Solferino, an account of a deadly nineteenth-century battle in Italy.
In the 1980s, Hector wants nothing to do with June, but when his new woman-friend and June's detective are both killed in a bizarre car accident, he relents, and he and June embark on a trip through Europe, hoping to find their son and travel with him to Solferino. With June's health declining rapidly (her dependence on morphine echoes Sylvie's earlier addiction), the trip is grueling. As the two complete their pilgrimage with June on the verge of dying, Lee also brings the story in Korea to a fiery climax.
The lives of the three main characters in The Surrendered are ruined by the violence of war--while Sylvia, June, and Hector try in various ways to move beyond the traumas that shaped them, their scars eventually end up harming the other people they care about. Although the story in Europe drags a bit, overall Lee drives the story forward relentlessly, and the reader can only keep reading with a deep sense of dread and sadness. This tragedy is complete.
She let go his still warm hand, kissed his still-warm face. She stayed with him as long as she could. But when the last car of the train passed her she rose to her feet and steadied herself. And then she ran for her life.
But it was messy; love was the question that had confounded her most in life. With "loved ones"--with a mother and father, sisters and brother, with a son--one always began with love and proceeded from there, and through time and happenstance saw it broadened, or shored up, or else steadily assailed, wrecked, and torn down.
But for June it had not been exactly so; her secret feeling was that the opposite was true. Even before they had all perished, or vanished, she had had a heart that craved more readily than it accepted, she could look upon the face of a beloved with no ill reason or malice and in an instant cleave herself from the bond. It was an effortlessly monstrous ability, as if she could simply pluck from her heel a spur called love, her own cool blood the quickest antidote.