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Our Twisted Hero Hardcover – February 28, 2001

4.6 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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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 (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #211,159 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Kindle Edition
Our Twisted Hero is both the story of a student dealing with a classroom bully and also a political allegory with hints of Orwell's Animal Farm, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and a fair bit of Golding's Lord of the Flies. The political allegory, of course, is intended to refer to Korea and its recent history.

Beneath it's simple schoolroom setting is a meditation on totalitarianism, and how intellectuals who might oppose it are at least partially brought to heel by it, either through a process of intimidation, or a process of assimilation and ease. Even when they can escape, the process is messy and incomplete.

In some ways it is a fish out of water story with a young protagonist (I say protagonist because he is not the "hero" of the title) moving from Seoul to the countryside and entering a new school there. The protagonist, Han Pyong-Tae is a clever fellow, and sees his new, somewhat bumpkin schoolmates as beneath him. He plans to become student #1. This ascension is blocked, however, by Om Sokdae, a student of extreme power and charisma, little formal intellect, but a rather devious understanding of power and coercion. Om Sokdae rules the classroom through a cult of personality that would be immediately recognizable by Koreans on either side of the 38th parallel.

Om Sokdae's orderly rule is, of course, a representation of Korea under its dictatorial regimes and the idealistic but utterly failed leadership that follows is representative of the early democratic regimes, which could not successfully follow the dictatorships. A hint is also made here that in the new, freer regime, certain ex-subjects will look back with nostalgia on the previous oppressive era.
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