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Our Twisted Hero Hardcover – February 28, 2001
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This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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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.
Top customer reviews
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.
This is an interesting take, and Yi Mun-yol was one of the first Korean writers who did not merely apply a romantic gloss to the awkward flounderings of the early Korean democracy. As far as I know, Ch'oe Yun's The Grey Snowman was the next to take on this kind of issue, and that was in 1992, nearly 5 years later.
Han Pyong-Tae fights mightily against Om Sokdae's regime, but even when Han temporarily gets his teacher on his side, he fails. Om's regime is eventually threatened, but only by an even greater `totalitarian' power.
Our Twisted Hero should only take an hour or two to read (Amazon estimates the Kindle pages at 64, and it combines an fairly understandable and relatable story of school and bullying with a brilliant series of political allegories.
Definitely one of Yi Mun-yol's best.
The story concerns a 12-year-old boy, Han Pyongt'ae, who moves from Seoul to 'a small provincial town' when his father is transferred. Pyongt'ae assumes that, as he's from the city, he will have a leg up on his new, less-sophisticated classmates. But that's when he meets Om Sokdae, the popular leader of his class. Sokdae serves as the class monitor, a position that affords him great power over the rest of the students. Unfortunately, Sokdae does not use his powers responsibly, but instead abuses and subjugates the others. The teacher doesn't care as long as the students are well-behaved. Pyongt'ae, with his naive idealism, is outraged when he sees the stranglehold that Sokdae has over the rest of the class, and rebels. What ensues is a battle of wills.
Our Twisted Hero is meant to be an allegory for the political upheavals that were rocking Korea around that time. However, you can still enjoy this story even if you're not interested in politics, as it stands on its own as a story of a young boy who wonders at what price he's willing to abandon his principles.
The translation might strike some readers as a bit dry or stilted, and perhaps not believable as the voice of a 12-year-old boy. However, for me, this didn't detract from the story in the least. In fact, I enjoyed the overall detached tone that the story took; it seemed to fit with the cynicism that permeated throughout.
Yi Munyol is an acclaimed author in Korea; however, he is virtually unknown here in the States. As far as I know, Our Twisted Hero and another book (a novel called The Poet) are the only books of his that have been translated into English. It's a shame, because after reading this book, I am definitely interested in reading more by this author!