Our Twisted Hero

Appropriate for young adults. 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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Bend Or Break

Field of Interest/Specialty: English/German
Posted On: 01/22/2017

It’s complicated. When you move into a new elementary school, expecting to be the top dog because of your previous academic success, only to have your expectations quickly and entirely squashed, life gets tough. When you keep striving to prove you’re the best, to show your teacher that injustice is ruling the classroom, only to find yourself pushed further down the pecking order, things get worse. Such is the situation for Han Pyongt’ae in Yi Mun-yol’s Our Twisted Hero. Pyongt’ae’s father’s disgrace at work has forced the family to move from the big city of Seoul, Korea to a small town. The accompanying change of schools would have been easy for Pyongt’ae, but for the all-surpassing dominance of the classroom monitor/bully, Om Sokdae. Sokdae rules the classroom, exerting more influence than even the teacher. If something goes wrong, the teacher is reluctant to deal the it, knowing that Sokdae will handle it in his own way. Sokdae rules in a way that invite thoughts of organized crime or dictatorship, in which the man at the top isn’t doing the dirty work; underlings handle the legwork, while Sokdae pulls the strings from behind the curtains. Pyongt’ae’s has only so much will to resist, and gradually changes his approach to school; rather than resist, he begins to embrace the order. Only when the teacher changes, does Sokdae’s order collapse. Whether the new order is better remains to be seen.
Pyongt’ae narrates the story as a middle-aged man reflecting back on the experience of his youth, and it is through that lens of life experience that readers are given a glimpse at the story lurking between the lines--a critique of the Korean governmental turmoil in the second half of the 20th century. Our Twisted Hero is appropriate for readers at the middle school or high school level, and would be most at home in a language arts classroom, though it could work in a social studies classroom, too. The novel invites discussions of character struggles, heroes, and allegory, and opens up even more when students have background knowledge of post-WWII Korea.