Yun Ko-eun’s prose is economical and exacting—but also intensely atmospheric, especially as the novel unfolds to its grim conclusion. Realism, speculation, and a fairly entropic sense of the fantastic are all melded together. The translation by Lizzie Buehler dances with great facility across the novel’s scalpel-precise observational detail as well as the nightmare-logic of Yona’s unravelling situation. Each line of this packed volume does multiple layers of labor simultaneously: thematic, descriptive, philosophical, narrative. She wastes no words ... a wildly, necessarily uncomfortable narrative about the effects of the systemic corruption of late capitalism on multiple scales. The novel is downright spooky, holding a mirror up to the individual reader: how do we participate, and what draws us to do so, and how are we all cogs in a great and overwhelming catastrophe?
... a very complex and gripping thriller ... I loved this book. It took me by surprise because the plot had such a slow burn to it ... the way it ended was satisfying but the realism made it all the more terrifying too. It had a great mystery and I still don’t fully understand and don’t know if I’ll ever be able to interpret the true meaning out of the various symbols weaved throughout the story. It also amazes me as to how much this book managed to pack in, in under 200 pages of writing ... absolutely fantastic and thought-provoking writing as its best.
All the upheavals of 2020 perhaps make now the perfect time to read Yun Ko-eun’s latest novel, The Disaster Tourist ... The Disaster Tourist, translated by Lizzie Buehler, lays bare the inherent inauthenticity of the tourist experience — especially those that purport to be beneficial, even humanitarian, for the local community — and does so in a way that will make you creepily uncomfortable about all your past travel adventures.
Although it was first published in Korean in 2013, this tale of complicity and denial (reintroduced in a new English translation by Lizzie Buehler this summer) feels nauseatingly on point this year ... The Disaster Tourist comes close to being oppressive at times, especially in Yona’s seemingly uncritical view of a workplace that keeps her down ... Yun allows her characters just a few moments of solace and connection—and a surprising show of solidarity, right when all seems lost. Ultimately, though, they don’t rail against the system they’re stuck inside. They are resigned to it, or they enable it, and they’re annihilated anyway.
Like many contemporary Korean novels, The Disaster Tourist presents a surreal world with a no-frills matter-of-factness heavy on descriptive details and light on emotional insight. Lizzie Buehler’s workmanlike translation delivers a straight-faced telling of an ever-more-bizarre tale. Though this is satire, there is no humor, just an increasingly caustic depiction of the destructive and dehumanizing effects of rapacious capitalism, swaggering consumerism, and performative travel ... The Disaster Tourist is a cautionary tale against the industry’s excesses and, indeed, the excesses of contemporary, industrialized life in general.
... another fresh and sharp story about life under late capitalism ... Translator Lizzie Buehler deftly coveys the subtle tonalities of the prose, variously graceful and light...witty and absurd, then suspenseful, even terror-filled. Descriptions of the climactic disaster are flattened and attenuated, becoming strangely euphoric as the narrative focuses on all the anonymous lives shattered, people dispossessed by forces beyond any of the characters’ imaginations. Ultimately, the plot details aren’t always precise enough to convey the complexity of exactly what is at stake, or with whom moral responsibility sits, while a tenuous love story adds another layer of narrative complication. But this is an entertaining eco-thriller that sets out to illuminate the way climate change is inextricably bound up with the pressures of global capitalism.
Part black comedy, part thriller, The Disaster Tourist is most successful as a satire ... Yun Ko-eun excels at including small details that show how dehumanizing our search for adventure and exoticism can be ... Other aspects of The Disaster Tourist are less successful. Yona is a thinly developed character, with no personal attributes, interests, or motivations aside from keeping her job and escaping from her abusive boss, so it is difficult to feel invested in her fate or to take any interest in the moral dilemmas she faces. This significantly lowers the stakes for the thriller elements of the novel ... As a satire, The Disaster Tourist hits all the right notes, providing a biting critique of our hyper-connected and hyper-commodified society, but as a thriller, it fails to deliver.
The questioning of any notion of authenticity is central to Yun Ko-eun’s excellent The Disaster Tourist ... intrigue and scheming ... All of this is delivered in what might be said to be a familiar form of Korean writing, known to us now, thankfully, through many translations. An ostensibly detached style, using simple language. A plain rendering of the extraordinary.
South Korean author Yun’s spare but provocative novel (after the collection Table for One) offers perceptive satire laced with disconcerting imagery ... Yun cleverly combines absurdity with legitimate horror and mounting dread. With its arresting, nightmarish island scenario, this work speaks volumes about the human cost of tourism in developing countries.
Yun’s novel spirals into increasingly bizarre events as Mui battles for its very survival and, alarmingly, pulls out all the stops. The Jungle is an effective model for capitalism—the Upton Sinclair echo might resonate with some. Mui too efficiently fills in for every community in the world pitted against the rest, scraping the bottom of the barrel for survival as it faces an increasingly harsh reality. But Yona remains frustratingly opaque, her background story needing more color. The taut storyline keeps the narrative moving at a tight pace even if the takeaways feel ham-handed at times. A sharp sendup of society’s obsession with the next hot thing—and the steep toll it extracts on very real lives.