No matter who you are or where you've been, there's been a bully in your past who picked on you. For me, it was Justin Wood. We later became friends of sorts, but in middle school he was merciless. Early one morning my brother thought it would be a good idea to style me like the cool kids styled themselves, i.e., mousse for the hair. He lathered it on the top of my head and combed it in such a way that I did indeed look like one of the cool kids. What my brother failed to do, however, was put mousse on the sides also; so, the top of my head stayed a firmly encrusted styling while the sides dried and poofed out --- a lot. Justin Wood of course took notice. I was then called "Planet of the Apes" for the rest of the year. It's those kinds of people you don't forget, the people who stick with you long after they're gone and you've grown up. There will always be a bully. There will always be a victim. No matter if you're in Olympia, Washington or Gruyere, Switzerland, this relationship unfolds again and again.
Yi Munyol takes a look at this delicate balance of power with the novella OUR TWISTED HERO. Munyol is one of Korea's most acclaimed writers and the author of 16 novels (many of which have sold in the millions). He hasn't been heard of in the States because nothing has been published here. Until now. OUR TWISTED HERO is Munyol's first book ever to be published in North America and it will certainly interest new readers to his work.
Han Pyongt'ae is a 12-year-old boy and the narrator of the story. He's had to move from the glories of Seoul to a small provincial town so his father can keep working. He misses Seoul. He understood Seoul and the politics that played out in its schools. In Seoul he received good grades and had friends and was well-respected. He had no doubts that he could fit right into his new school surroundings and find himself a leader of sorts.
That's until he meet Sokdae, a charismatic and corrupt class monitor, who has all the students and even the teachers under his mysterious spell. The boys immediately butt heads, and Pyongt'ae makes attempts to thwart Sokdae's power, to topple his regime. First, he tries by himself. Then, he tries to get the class involved. Don't they know they are entitled to just as many rights as Sokdae? Don't they know they don't have to cheat on tests for him, become slaves to him?
OUR TWISTED HERO starts as a simple story of classroom dynamics --- but it is much more than that. It is about corruption, the lust for power and acceptance that we all want, whether it be from others or from within ourselves.
Unfortunately, the tale doesn't pack as great a punch as it could. The impact of the climax is lessened by the fact that Pyongt'ae has little to do with it. The continued barrage of assaults and attacks that Pyongt'ae wages on Sokdae weakens with each effort. Soon, the reader feels just as sorry for the antagonist as for the protagonist. Pyongt'ae's endless rants about Sokdae's power and how unfair it is turns the readers' affections elsewhere; we begin feeling sorry for the boy and his low self-esteem. "Get over it!" I wanted to yell at him.
That's perhaps where the title comes from, OUR TWISTED HERO. He is twisted --- conflicted with who he thinks he is and who he really is.
Reviewed by Jonathan Shipley on February 28, 2001
Our Twisted Hero