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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

  

Our Twisted Hero

by
Yi Munyol


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Our Twisted Hero



Title: Our Twisted Hero
Author: Yi Munyol
Genre: Novel
Written: 1987 (Eng. 2001)
Length: 122 pages
Original in: Korean
Availability: Our Twisted Hero - US
Our Twisted Hero - UK
Our Twisted Hero - Canada
Notre héros défiguré - France
Der entstellte Held - Deutschland
Un piccolo eroe sbeffeggiato - Italia
  • Korean title: 우리들의 일그러진 영웅
  • Translated by Kevin O'Rourke
  • Winner of the Yi sang Award

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Our Assessment:

A- : fine novella about the vicissitudes and complexities of youth, and the ease and dangers of succumbing to those that wield power

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 15/4/2001 Susan Salter Reynolds
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 30/3/2004 Ludger Lütkehaus
The Village Voice . 10/7/2001 Achy Obejas

  From the Reviews:
  • "Yi Munyol gelingt es, so differenziert und spannungsvoll aus der Sicht seiner Schülergestalten zu erzählen, dass statt eines platten politischen Lehrstücks ein passagenweise atemberaubendes Psychogramm entsteht." - Ludger Lütkehaus, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "In Our Twisted Hero, Yi's warnings center on the South's abuse of power and its need to preserve an image of contrast to the North. Yi's tale about a school that seems to be in order even though its own students and faculty know better is really about how sometimes, in the quest to keep totalitarianism at bay, democracy itself may be trampled and perverted." - Achy Obejas, The Village Voice

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Our Twisted Hero is a short novella about schoolboy life in South Korea. The narrator, young Han Pyongt'ae, transfers from his prestigious Seoul elementary school to a provincial one after his father comes out on the losing end of an office dispute.
       Han Pyongt'ae is twelve at the time. He expects to excel at his new school, since he was already a star pupil at his far more rigorous big-city school. And he expects his new classmates to be impressed -- or at least interested in -- his big-city credentials. Instead, Han Pyongt'ae finds his class singularly unimpressed. Dominated by a single figure, the class monitor Om Sokdae, no one dares to show much interest in the newcomer.
       Older and bigger than the other students, Om Sokdae exerts complete control over the class, wielding more power than the teacher. He is not, however, your usual bully. Brute force rarely plays a role. He wields his power more carefully, and more insidiously. Han Pyongt'ae refuses to toe the line, and finds that such opposition comes at a high cost. Om Sokdae does practically nothing outright against Han Pyongt'ae, and still he manages to cause him much grief. Han Pyongt'ae's grades tumble and he constantly gets in trouble. Han Pyongt'ae is sure that Om Sokdae is behind it, but there is no direct proof.
       Eventually Han Pyongt'ae gives in, joining the rest of the class in acting for and on behalf of Om Sokdae. Life becomes easier and more pleasant. Submission pays.
       But Om Sokdae has a weak point. Han Pyongt'ae chooses not to exploit it when he discovers it, but it is eventually revealed and the tables are dramatically turned. Han Pyongt'ae remains ambivalent. Life goes on.
       Our Twisted Hero is, of course, more a political allegory than a tale of school-boy life, but it is successful as both. Yi Munyol describes school life with all its juvenile tribulations, concerns, fears, and obeisance very well. South Korean schools differ markedly from Western ones (notably in regard to official class hierarchies, student powers (and responsibilities), and, of course, the role of class monitors), but Yi conveys this clearly enough to make it readily understood. The same story could not happen here exactly as it happens in the book -- but, in the Lord of the Flies' sense, it could, of course, happen anywhere.
       The cult of personality that develops around Om Sokdae could almost be called unremarkable. He is a natural leader, and he has certain advantages -- notably because he is older and bigger than his classmates -- but he wields his power very carefully. The character and his actions are, on a different scale, exactly what one expects in descriptions of totalitarian dictators. And this must have been all the more obvious in Korea, where many also followed charismatic political (and religious) leaders, to the detriment of themselves and their country.
       Life under Om Sokdae is not hellish. It is, in fact, fairly pleasant. It is predictable. The cost, at least for Han Pyongt'ae, is not high. And so the book raises difficult questions: when to stand up and how to stand up to such forces. The answers are clear, but, as Yi shows, not easy.

       Nicely written, well presented. A strong little book, certainly recommended.

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Links:

Our Twisted Hero: Reviews: Other books by Yi Munyol under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • Amélie Nothomb's Loving Sabotage tells of younger childhood conflicts, in a different totalitarian atmosphere
  • See Index of Korean literature

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About the Author:

       (South) Korean author Yi Mun Yol (이문열, Yi Munyol, Yi Mun-yol) was born in 1948. He has won numerous literary prizes, and his work has been translated into several foreign languages.

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© 2001-2011 the complete review

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