The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis book review: ‘The Dwarf,’ a Korean novel by Cho Se-hui

Written By: herbrunbridge - Dec• 27•12

Originally written in 1978, Korean writer Cho Se-hui’s novel The Dwarf (2006, ISBN-10 0-8248-3101-2) isn’t an east grasp for westerners. The story represents characters in black and white, and the tale, of workers vs. management, is didactic. Two things helped us here at WoWasis through this otherwise well-crafted novel, translator Bruce Fulton’s afterword, and the fact that we finished the book while traveling in Bangladesh. Doesn’t make sense? Read on.

As Fulton points out, South Korea’s first five-year economic plan, launched in 1965, was the beginning of a four-decade initiative that resulted in that country becoming one of the most important economic countries in the world. Under president Parch Chung Hee, workers’ rights were considered insignificant in the drive to change the country’s economic fortunes. And the seven interconnected stories that form this book hearken back to the similar stage in which the U.S. found itself at the beginning of the 20th century. Nations on a quick march to development tread on the backs of the underprivileged, and this book has that in spades.

Where Bangladesh figured in, for us, was this. We’re traveling in a country that is in a similar state to that which Korea found itself when the book was written. The train station in the capital of Dhaka has no signs in English, no information counter, no uniformed personnel in the station or on the platforms. Travelers not speaking Bengali are on their own. That’s assuming they were able to buy a ticket in the first place.

Like the Korea of post-World War II, this country desperately needs an economic miracle. The Dwarf forced us to ask the question. Many people here are suffering tremendously at the lower end of the economic spectrum. What if a Bangladeshi Park Chung Hee surfaced, suggested the country take on an aggressive plan for economic growth, and admitted that some people would have to make tremendous sacrifices. Would there be any serious internal rebuttal? The promise of glory is a beckoning siren that has bedeviled humankind throughout history. This book shows the consequences in human terms of unchecked economic growth. Countries like today’s Bangladesh prove how enchanting and inciting the prospect of that growth can seem. Buy this book here at the WoWasis eStore.

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