When Han Pyongt'ae is twelve, his family moves from Seoul to a provincial
town and he joins a new elementary school. He finds his class totally
under the thumb of Om Sokdae. Sokdae is not a bully but a genuine
dictator, a charismatic leader who maintains order as much by cleverness
as by force, and who mobilises the class to achieve and against outsiders.
For months Pyongt'ae fights his rule, attempting to stage a revolt,
refusing to kow-tow, and facing ostracism and harassment as a result.
Eventually he gives in and, raised to be Sokdae's right-hand man, comes to
enjoy the privileges of power. Then a new teacher arrives and everything
Our Twisted Hero is clearly an allegory for Korean politics, for the
transition from an arguably benevolent but totalitarian regime to an
uncertain democracy. It is never didactic or clumsy, however, and it
works as a story of a child at school, without any political background.
While the setting is Korean, the individual quandary is universal —
the psychological lure of the strongman and the comfort and security he
brings. Our Twisted Hero is short — more a novella than a novel —
but spare and unadorned and focused; as a study in childhood politics
it can stand next to Lord of the Flies.
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