Saturday, August 21, 2021

The Disaster Tourist

The Disaster Tourist / Yun Ko-Eun; 
trans. from the Korean by Lizzie Buehler
Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2020, c2013.
200 p.

I picked this up a while ago, having not reviewed it yet since I'm not quite sure what to say about it! It's a strange little book. Yona has been working at Jungle for 10 years -- it's a company who arranges tours to areas that have suffered disasters. The more terrible the disaster, the keener the tourists are on visiting the aftermath. 

Her office work has been going along smoothly for a long time, but now she's experiencing harrassment from a new, predatory coworker. Jungle doesn't want to deal with it, so they give her the "opportunity" to do a site visit to a small island that they are reconsidering their partnership with. The returns haven't been great, since there is only an underwhelming sinkhole at the island resort. She's to pose as a tourist and give a full report on the situation. 

Of course when she gets there, all sorts of things begin to change. Jungle doesn't seem as supportive as she'd like; meanwhile, the hotel where she is staying seems to be involved in a plan to create a new disaster to up their value in the eyes of the tourist trade. 

Yona has the chance to take on a new position with the island tourist organization, but is it really any better than her work with Jungle? How responsible is she for the actions of the company she works for? And will either one care about her as a person, or is to going to be left to her own devices in the looming disaster ahead? 

Lots of interesting questions posed here, and I liked the oddity of the setup. It doesn't seem too farfetched, really, but does allow the character to be put into some surreal situations. The structure of the story works, too, with a slow build that keeps you reading and horrified by what you are imagining is coming next. 

I found it interesting and appreciated what it was doing. I also liked the style, I thought it reflected the character well. However, I also found it really dark, and parts of the narrative made me uncomfortable. The aesthetic is one I find in a lot of Korean books in particular, and it just doesn't mesh with my current state of mind. So emotionally, I didn't love this story. But that's not a reflection of the book - objectively I think this is a fresh take on a topical theme, and it was unexpected and well-done. Just not what I was looking for right now. 


  1. Really interesting sounding premise. How many things people do are just to pull others in via the drama, the shocking, the astonishing. This seems to take that to extremes.

  2. There are a lot of interesting questions posed (and raised) by this imagined scenario.
    Did you know disaster tourism is a real-life thing? I looked it up!

  3. I would really wonder about anyone who read this and was NOT uncomfortable! Heheh She's so smart. I'm keen to see what she does next.


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