Our Twisted Hero

Yi Munyol, Author, Mun-Yol Yi, Author Hyperion Books $24.95 (128p) ISBN 978-0-7868-6670-0
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 record--such as his predilection for cheating on all-important exams--are 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.)
Reviewed on: 03/01/2001
Release date: 02/01/2001
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