Our Twisted Hero
- onNovember 16, 2014
- Vol.24 Summer 2014
- byYi Mun-yol
- Our Twisted Hero
Tr. Kevin O’Rourke 201264pp.
When I came home from school that day, I began again to examine carefully this new order and environment. A certain mental paralysis, the result of being thrown suddenly into a very strange school environment, and a feeling of being threatened by the rigidity of this new order, which now suddenly was weighing down on me, filled my head with a kind of fog; everything was so fuzzy that I couldn’t think.
Although at twelve it’s still easy enough to treat everything with the innocence of a child, I had the feeling I wouldn’t be able to transfer into this new order and environment. What had happened violated completely the principles of reason and freedom by which I had been reared all my life. I had not yet experienced directly the full brunt of Sokdae’s order, but I had more than a vague presentiment of the irrationality and violence I would have to endure after accepting it. It all seemed like a horrible prearranged plan that was destined to become reality.
However, the prospect of fighting was dreary beyond belief. Where would I begin, who would I have to fight, and how would the fight be conducted? —it was all so daunting. It was clear that there was something wrong, that there was enormous injustice in a system founded on irrationality and violence. But it was too much to expect me at that time to have either a concrete understanding or a concrete response. To tell the truth, even today at forty, I don’t have the complete confidence needed to handle this sort of thing.
Not having a brother, I told my father about Sokdae. I wanted to describe what I had had to put up with from Sokdae that day and get advice about what I should do in the future. But my father’s reaction was unexpected. I had barely finished describing Sokdae’s strange behavior and was just about to ask a question in the hope of getting advice when Father suddenly said in a voice filled with wonder, “That boy is really something. You said his name was Om Sokdae, didn’t you? If he’s like that already, he’s surely heading for great things.” Obviously Father didn’t recognize the existence of any injustice here at all. Hot under the collar now, I told my father about the monitor system in Seoul. I described how things were decided reasonably by election and that no restraints were put on our freedom. But Father seemed to interpret my attachment to reason and freedom purely as a sign of weakness.
“What a weakling you are! Why do you always have to be in the crowd? Why do you believe you can’t be monitor? Think of how things would be if you were monitor yourself. What better example could you have of what a monitor should do?” He went on then to advocate fixing my sights on the monitor’s job, which Om Sokdae now held, telling me not to be angry at the unfortunate situation the class found itself in, nor at the system that had created this situation, nor at the bad management of the system.
Poor Dad! It’s only now that I think I understand him and the bitter taste of humiliation, the sense of powerlessness he was experiencing after being tossed from a plum job in the central office in Seoul and being made section chief of general affairs in the country administration. He had been nailed by an overzealous boss for staying at his desk and not rushing out to greet the minister when the latter came on inspection. He must have had a greater thirst for power now than at any other time in his life. But he had always been the one who believed in reason, the one who scolded my mother for caring more about my ability to go out and give some boy a beating than about my grades.
Of course, at the time, I had no way of understanding all of this, so my father’s abrupt change left me at a complete loss. My confusion was all the greater since, next to my teachers, my father had always had the greatest influence on my decisions. As a result, instead of learning how to deal with the impending fight, I was left confused about the very existence of the injustice itself, and this was crucial in deciding whether or not a fight was necessary.
Still, I listened attentively to my father’s advice, and as soon as I got to school the next day, I began to examine the possibilities. Father’s advice, however, was quite impracticable. Unlike in Seoul, where an election for class monitor took place every term, I was told there wouldn’t be an election here until the spring. There was no way of knowing how the class would be divided then. And even if I prepared for the election, someone like me, who had drifted in suddenly in fifth grade, had little or no chance of winning. Even if it were possible to win, the thought of the humiliation the other children and I would have to endure in the meantime was like a nightmare. In addition, Om Sokdae did not wait for me to prepare at my leisure for next year.
Our little clash that first day, even though it ended in my surrender, made a strong impression on Om Sokdae. It seemed to put him on his guard. Perhaps not quite sure of his victory the first day, he tried to confirm it the next day. Again it was at lunchtime. I had just taken the lid off my lunchbox when a boy in the row in front of me looked back and said, “It’s your turn today. Fetch Om Sokdae a cup of water. Then you can have your lunch.”
I had raised my voice without being aware of it.
“Are you deaf? Bring over a cup of water. We don’t want food to stick in the monitor’s throat, do we? It’s your turn today.”
“Who decided whose turn it was? Why do we have to fetch water for the monitor? Is the monitor a teacher or what? Doesn’t the monitor have any hands or feet?” I countered loudly, outraged. In Seoul, an errand like that would be considered an insufferable insult. It took an enormous effort on my part to stop myself from using foul language. Still, my bluntness made the boy hesitate. Suddenly, from behind my back, Om Sokdae’s familiar voice said threateningly, “Hey, Han Pyongt’ae, cut it out and fetch a cup of water.”
“No. I won’t.”
I greeted Sokdae with a stony refusal. I was so angry I didn’t even see him. He slammed the lid roughly on his lunchbox and walked over toward me, his face set in anger.
Yi Mun-yol was born in 1948. He made his debut as a writer in 1977. Yi’s works were enriched by the classics of East Asia that he had naturally become familiar with during his childhood and the Western literature that he had voraciously devoured in his young adulthood. In The Son of Man, Yi questioned the relationship between man and god; in A Portrait of Youthful Days, he portrayed the struggle and anguish of his youth. The Golden Phoenix was an exploration of the ontological meaning of art using calligraphy, a traditional art form in Korea. Yi also has consistently published works that are critical to the nature of political power. Our Twisted Hero is an allegorical depiction of the mechanism of how political power operates. Homo Executants portrays the process through which political ideology suffocates humanity. Aside from these, his works include Hail to the Emperor, The Age of Heroes, Choice and Immortality. The recipient of Korea’s highest literary prizes, Yi has been published in over 20 countries including the U.S., France, Great Britain and Germany; over 60 titles of his translated works are available.