The Dwarf

The Dwarf

Cho Se-hŭi
Ju-Chan Fulton
Copyright Date: 2006
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  • Book Info
    The Dwarf
    Book Description:

    The dark side of South Korea’s "economic miracle" emerges in The Dwarf, Cho Se-hui’s enormously popular and critically acclaimed work. First published in 1978, it speaks to the painful social costs of reckless industrialization, even as it tellingly portrays the spiritual malaise of the newly rich and powerful and a working class subject to forces beyond its control. Cho’s lean, clipped, deceptively simple style, the rapidly shifting points of view, terse dialogue, and subtle irony evoke the particularities of life in 1970s South Korea in the presence of global economic forces. The desperate realities of life for the dwarf, the proverbial little guy upon whose back Korea’s economic transformation largely took place, are emotively rendered in twelve linked stories examining the lives of a laboring family, a family of the newly emerging middle class, and that of a wealthy industrialist. The stories have overlapping characters and situations: the murder of a swindler, a family’s eviction from a squatter settlement, the assassination of an important executive, the dwarf ’s fantasy of a planet where life is easier, his later suicide and the subsequent fate of his dispersed friends and family members.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6469-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. The Möbius Strip
    (pp. 1-12)

    THE MATHEMATICS TEACHER entered the classroom. The students noticed that he hadn’t brought the textbook. They trusted this teacher. In this school he was the only teacher to have won the students’ trust.

    “Gentlemen,” he began. “This has been a challenging year. You’ve really put your heart into your studies, all of you. And so for this last class I’d like to talk about something that’s not related to the college entrance exam. I’ve been looking through some books and I found something I’d like to share with you. Let me start by putting it to you in the form...

  4. Knifeblade
    (pp. 13-32)

    THERE ARE THREE KNIVES in Shin-ae’s kitchen. Two are kitchen knives—one large and one small. Once a year Shin-ae calls a knife sharpener to put a new edge on the large one. A good sharpener knows knives. There are some who don’t. Those who don’t will start with the grindstone for the first sharpening. Shin-ae snatches the knife from such sharpeners and goes inside. When the ones who know knives take this one in hand their eyes open wide and they silently observe it. Knife sharpeners are struck by the sight of a good knife. They start by gently...

  5. Space Travel
    (pp. 33-46)

    ONE BY ONE YUN-HO removed the books from the bookshelf. He couldn’t understand it. Why did boys turn into jellyfish at the sight of girls, and why did girls do the same at the sight of boys? When he thought of the girls he had slept with he felt like throwing up. Yun-ho didn’t like those girls. And that’s probably why he had no memories of a happy ending. The ending was always the same: All he wanted to do was cry. Maybe the girls remembered Yun-ho as someone very weak. But the Yun-ho of the present moment cared not...

  6. A Little Ball Launched by a Dwarf
    (pp. 47-91)

    PEOPLE CALLED FATHER A DWARF. Their perception was correct. Fatherwasa dwarf. Sad to say, that was their only correct perception of Father. They were wrong about everything else. On that eternal fact I would bet all that we have—wemeaning Father, Mother, my brother Yŏng-ho, my sister Yŏng-hŭi, and I. And when I say “all,” that includes “the lives of us five.” People who live in heaven don’t need to think of hell. But the five of us lived in hell and we thought of heaven. There wasn’t a single day that we didn’t. Because each and...

  7. On the Footbridge
    (pp. 92-101)

    SHIN-AE COULDN’T GET a grip on herself. Here she was in the heart of the city and all around her as far as the eye could see were people, buildings, vehicles. Exhaust fumes, body odors, the stench of burning rubber issued from the streets. It was difficult even to stop for a moment and glance about. The sidewalks overflowed with people, the roadways with vehicles. There was no place to linger. No place to pause a few seconds to try and boost her low spirits.

    She was on her way to the hospital. Her younger brother was there. Not yet...

  8. Orbital Rotation
    (pp. 102-116)

    YUN-HO SPENT his third year quietly. December of the second year had been nothing but trouble, as had the following January. If not for his father, those two months would have passed uneventfully as well. His father had tried to uncover the reason for Yun-ho’s failure in the college prep exam. Yun-ho had said nothing. His score the first year had been 267. The cutoff point that year was 196. His father didn’t know why Yun-ho, having passed by 71 points, proceeded to fail the exam the following year. When he finally found out, he turned pale. He tried to...

  9. City of Machines
    (pp. 117-128)

    JULY AND AUGUST WERE extraordinarily hot and humid. The papers were full of articles calling it the worst heat in thirty years. The entire country was tinder dry. But Yun-ho had nothing to worry about. His father had installed an air conditioner and it spewed out cold air without the slightest sound. One day this city of Ŭngang had suddenly loomed huge in Yun-ho’s mind; if not for that he would have been content to prepare for the examination in his pleasant surroundings. The city of Ŭngang left a gloomy outline in Yun-ho’s mind. The sons and daughter of the...

  10. The Cost of Living for a Family of Ŭngang Laborers
    (pp. 129-140)

    I DIDN’T WANT TO LISTEN any more. Yŏng-hŭi was talking about the town of Lilliput near Lake Hastro in Germany. I wasn’t catching all the details, but I could tell it was a sad story. When she thought about our departed father, tears always appeared. Lilliput is an international town of dwarfs. Dwarfs from various countries have gathered there to live. Recently the world’s shortest man, a Turk whose height is thirty-one inches, moved there. The dwarf population of Lilliput steadily increases. In places other than Lilliput dwarfs live lives of inconvenience and danger because the scale of everything is...

  11. The Fault Lies with God as Well
    (pp. 141-158)

    I LONGED FOR A WORLD of utter simplicity. Simpler even than the world Father dreamed of. To go to the moon and work at an observatory—that was Father’s dream. If he had realized that dream he would have been able to see Coma Berenices, a constellation five billion light-years away. But poor Father passed on without achieving anything. His body was reduced to half a handful of ash in the crematorium, and Yŏng-ho and I, standing beside the water, wept at the sight of Mother scattering it. That was the instant when our dwarf father disappeared into something inanimate....

  12. The Klein Bottle
    (pp. 159-178)

    THERE ARE A LOT of blind people in Ŭngang. This is one of the things that surprised me about living there. Of course I didn’t see them in the industrial zone. I learned about them during my walks about the urban district and residential area. One day I saw five blind people in the space of ten minutes. During the next ten minutes I saw three, and in the following ten minutes I saw two more, tapping the ground next to my feet. I found this surprising. There must be cities in the world where you can wander about for...

  13. The Spinyfish Entering My Net
    (pp. 179-208)

    FIVE O’CLOCK ALREADY and still it was dark. The first light of day ought to have reached the window by now, where the curtain would absorb it while gloom was driven from my room. I picked up the intercom at the head of my bed and pushed the button that connected me with the kitchen. The speaker diaphragm trembled with the girl’s sleepy, tentative voice. I told her I wanted coffee, then rose and drew the curtain. Fog draped the window; it crept toward the ground. I watched the old dog moving in the fog. Still it lived, scattering and...

  14. Epilogue
    (pp. 209-220)

    THE MATHEMATICS TEACHER entered the classroom. The students saw he didn’t have the textbook. The majority of the students trusted this teacher. As many as one-fifth doubted him. They were the ones who hadn’t scored well in mathematics on the college preparatory exam.

    “Gentlemen,” he began. “This has been a challenging time for you. You’ve really put your heart into your studies, all of you. But the math scores, which are my responsibility, are lower than ever before. I can’t tell you how sorry I am. This may sound like an excuse, but the responsibility for these lower math scores...

  15. Afterword: Cho Se-hŭi and The Dwarf
    (pp. 221-224)

    When the Republic of Korea (South Korea)’s first five-year economic development plan was launched in 1962, the nation’s economy was one of subsistence agriculture. Within four decades, South Korea had become one of the most high-tech countries in the world. This rapid transformation was made possible in part by President Park Chung Hee’s long-range economic program of export-led development, which in turn was predicated on the transformation of South Korea from an agrarian to an industrialized nation. Park, a former military man, was able to expedite this transformation after assuming dictatorial powers in the early 1970s. Industrialization during the Park...

  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 225-226)