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Our Twisted Hero Hardcover – February 28, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This deceptively innocent tale of psychological warfare between two elementary school students is the brief but forceful U.S. debut of Korea's most popular fiction writer. When 12-year-old Han Pyongt'ae moves to a small town from Seoul to begin fifth grade, he expects his cosmopolitan education will impress everyone. He quickly notices that the other students are indifferent and unusually obedient to Om Sokdae, the slightly older class monitor. At first, Han refuses to give in to the older boy's will, unaccustomed to power resting in anyone's hands other than the teacher's. Although Sokdae strong-arms his friends into bullying Han, the two of them rarely engage in direct confrontation, infusing the book's crucial relationship with a thought-provoking mixture of contempt and respect. Han ultimately acquiesces to Sokdae's rule, even growing to admire the older boy's inventiveness and daring. But blemishes in Sokdae's seemingly perfect academic recordAsuch as his predilection for cheating on all-important examsAare later uncovered, building toward a gratifying climax in which the system of control long accepted in the school faces a potent challenge. Parallels to Korea's current political climate become evident early on in the book; indeed, it was written in 1987, following the Kwangju Massacre and during a period of intense dictatorship in Korea. Munyol sustains interest by keeping the story simple, focused and close to readers' intuitive sense of right and wrong. Moreover, the charismatic Sokdae and the stubborn, idealistic Han are familiar, credible characters. This persuasive and morally enlightened novel makes a winning entrance for Munyol into Western readers' imaginations. (Feb.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Some 30 years after leaving Seoul, where he attended a prestigious elementary school, Han Pyongt'ae takes a retrospective look at himself as a 12-year-old adjusting to life in a small town with new rules and expectations. Han had thought that his new school would be easy, but much to his surprise and disgust, he discovers that schoolmate Om Sokdae has been secretly using his position as classroom monitor to intimidate his fellow classmates into giving him their possessions, writing his papers, and taking his tests. Han's efforts to challenge Om Sokdae lead to his ostracism. This universal tale by one of Korea's most popular novelists adeptly describes the hardships of a child subjected to bullying. The plot is engrossing, the characters well developed, and the translation noteworthy. This is the first of Yi Munyol's work to be published in the United States, and it will very likely not be the last. Recommended for general and Asian fiction collections in academic and larger public libraries.DShirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Books; First Printing of Hyperian Edition edition (February 28, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786866705
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786866700
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #176,604 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This tiny novella from a well-known South Korean writer serves as a simple allegory about totalitarianism, and how the intelligentsia who oppose it are first broken and then co-opted by it. Originally published in Korea in 1987, seven years after the massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in Kwangju-an episode not nearly as well known in the West as Tinnanmen Square-it was made into a film in 1992. The story is narrated by a middle-aged man, recounting his experience as a 12-year-old boy forced to leave his prestigious elementary school in Seoul and move with his family to a provincial town. He expects to be a big fish in the small pond at his new school, but the local kids could care less about his academic achievements in the big city. They are all under the sway of the class monitor and bully, who has also made himself indispensable to the class teacher.
The newcomer is aghast at the schoolyard cult of personality created by the monitor and refuses to go along with it, resulting in his ostracization. The class monitor doesn't merely intimidate the others with physical force, rather he relies on more subtle approaches, getting subordinates to take action for him, and cultivating a climate of fear. Of course, when the narrator attempts to report the misdeeds of the monitor to the teacher, there is no hard proof, and none of the other children will support his claims. Eventually the narrator finds the psychological isolation too difficult and decides to go along with status quo. This proves to be a very easy and rewarding path as he is made a crony of the monitor, and he finds life under the monitor's rule to be less distasteful than he had expected.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ken Miller on February 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
_Our Twisted Hero_ is a novella, about 120 pages, by South Korean writer Mun-yol Yi.
The plot: our 12 year old narrator, Han Pyongtae, arrives at his new school in rural Korea. Fresh from big city schools in Seoul, he expects to earn the highest marks and the respect of his peers. Instead, he encounters a classroom bully in the form of Om Sokdae, the tallest of his classmates. Om Sokdae extorts food, candy, and prized possessions from the other children. He has managed this for years, and no longer has to resort to violence to gain what he wants. Om Sokdae holds his classmates in terror. Worse, the teacher will not intervene. His orderly class is to his liking.
_Our Twisted Hero_ is the story of how Han Pyongtae copes with this situation. In such a short book the author has provided a powerful story with a powerful message.
American readers will be fascinated by this glimpse inside Korean society and the Korean school system. But this is not just a Korean story-- Han Pyongtae's story seems universal. His struggle is not only with the bully, but with the perceptions of the other children, feelings of injustice, and the confidence of his parents. Hopefully, teenagers and adults all over the world will find _Our Twisted Hero_ and benefit by it as I have. A marvelous little story.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 5, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This story could well take place in a prison or a boardroom. It's written with simple grace, avoiding all the fancy tricks. With a story so powerful, it doesn't need any. I look forward to more translated works from Mr. Munyol.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Sorrel Wood on February 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Our Twisted Hero concerns the travails of a grade-school boy whose father's career has taken the family out of the city and into a rural area. The boy's new schoolmates seem alien to him and to make matters worse, they are ruled by a sociopathic classmate. Although the protagonist complains to his parents, none of the local adults see any problem and his parents side with them. How the boy will survive the bully's dictatorship and whether there will be any rescue are the main questions of the story.

Our Twisted Hero is in part a parable of recent Korean history just as Lord of the Flies includes commententary upon twentieth century European politics and warfare. So before you read this wonderful novel, it helps to brush up a bit on your South Korean history, specifically the dictatorships of the nineteen sixties and eighties. (Wikipedia is a good start, talking with an older South Korean is even better.)

Without understanding this background, Western readers could be put off by the narrator's reactions to his family's move to the country and his new country school, which he sees as provincial and backward. Americans, raised on a steady diet of Winslow Homer and Little House on the Prarie, see their pre-industrial past in idyllic terms and often dismiss those who prefer the urbane as "elitist." The history of Koreans' relationship to rural life is very different from ours and they are not as inclined to idealize it.

Of course, what separates average novels from really good ones is the application of the specific to the universal. Yi does this beautifully and this book is one any intelligent reader can enjoy and relate to. Well written and well translated, Our Twisted Hero will bring you back to your own childhood struggles with authority, legitimate and otherwise. It's worth every won.
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