All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-eun

The Disaster Tourist
Yun Ko-eun (translated from Korean by Lizzie Buehler)
Serpent’s Tail
2020, 192p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Yona has been stuck behind a desk for years working as a programming coordinator for Jungle, a travel company specialising in package holidays to destinations ravaged by disaster. When a senior colleague touches her inappropriately she tries to complain, and in an attempt to bury her allegations, the company make her an attractive proposition: a free ticket for one of their most sought-after trips, to the desert island of Mui.

She accepts the offer and travels to the remote island, where the major attraction is a supposedly-dramatic sinkhole. When the customers who’ve paid a premium for the trip begin to get frustrated, Yona realises that the company has dangerous plans to fabricate an environmental catastrophe to make the trip more interesting, but when she tries to raise the alarm, she discovers she has put her own life in danger.

It got to almost the end of August and I realised that I had not read anything that contributed to my Reading Women Challenge in a while and that I was probably falling behind. I’ve read 13 books out of the 26 prompts (not including this one) and so I thought I’d better find something that would count. Because I can’t request titles from my library anymore due to this Stage 4 lockdown, my ability to find relevant titles has diminished a bit. I’m restricted to what I already have or what the library has available on one of their electronic borrowing platforms. There’s a good selection but it can be quite random. I’d spotted this a few times and in the end, rearranged a book I’d already used to tick off translated from an Asian language to a book set in Japan instead so that I could use this book for the Asian language. Sometimes you just have to get creative!

Yona is a woman in her early 30s working as a programming coordinator for Jungle, a company that puts together “disaster” holiday tours. Think visiting volcanoes, areas devastated by tsunamis etc. She’s very successful but such success is a precarious thing because Yona has seen colleagues before, suddenly disappear. They all live in fear of a mysterious yellow card which designates some sort of strike. Yona’s boss also starts touching her inappropriately and rumour has it he only targets those who are about to receive the yellow card. When she wants to quit, he instead convinces her to take a fully paid business trip to one of their tours that is not cutting it in terms of profit and analyse it undercover, making a report as to whether or not it should continue to be offered. Yona picks the most expensive tour, one of an island named Mui off the coast of Vietnam which boasts a sinkhole.

This starts off relatively straight forward. Yona is overworked – it seems that vacations aren’t really a thing at Jungle until you’re almost due a nervous breakdown. She’s been a consistently high performer and I’m not sure why she seems to feel like she’s about to be targeted for a mysterious yellow card. But when her boss starts sexually harassing her, it seems like it’s almost a foregone conclusion. There are others that he has targeted and they seek her out as well, wanting her to stand in solidarity with them as they protest his behaviour. When Yona tries to quit, she is instead urged to ‘take a break’ but that break is essentially work as well, as she will be assessing a tour for whether or not it should continue to go ahead.

Then, about maybe 2/3 of the way into this book, things take a rather sharp, unexpected turn. After realising that the tour is not particularly worth keeping, Yona is separated from her group at the end of the tour and forced to return to the resort on Mui where they all stayed. Whilst there, she uncovers a plot by some sort of mysterious owner of a company to fabricate a large disaster, to bring those who thrive on ‘disaster tourism’ flooding back to the island. And it was here things definitely started to get a little….unusual. Whilst Yona thinks she’s involved in the plan and has a role to play, she suddenly discovers that her role is not what she thought – actually, no one’s is.

I thought this had some interesting things to say on the popularity of ‘disaster tourism’ – visiting places where awful things had occurred, whether it be to pay respects to those lost or to marvel at nature’s fury or even just be a little glad that it was something that someone escaped. People visit areas of disaster (be they man made or natural) all the time and there’s a sort of macabre glee – like in this when a 5yo along for the tour is given paper and pen to draw and after hearing a story of a massacre, starts drawing the tour group as victims, severed heads and all. On the island, Yona and the tour are treated to a reenactment of the massacre that is said to have taken place there and spend a night living as those from the story would have. But when Yona returns to the resort, she discovers that nothing is as it seems and she’s stumbled onto several very unexpected plots, some where her discovery threatens others and one where it directly impacts on herself. I have to admit, the last third of this book was very interesting – kept me invested as the plan to fabricate the disaster was unveiled and there were a lot of things that happened which I did not expect. However, there was still quite a lot in the story that I found unsatisfying or not addressed. I don’t read a lot of fiction translated from Asian languages so that stripped back, more bare style might be something that’s quite common in these stories.

This had a lot of interesting ideas and some unexpected twists but I was still found somewhat wanting in the end.


Book #172 of 2020

The Disaster Tourist is book #14 of my participation in the Reading Women Challenge, hosted by The Reading Women Podcast, for 2020. I’m a little behind….. There’s only four months in the year to go and I need to read 12 titles in order to complete it so I’m definitely going to have to lift my game. I have a clear 2 books on my September TBR that will count towards this (By an Arab woman and also over 500p) but I want to find a third book as well, to not fall further behind. One of the prompts is frequently recommended to you, so I need people to start recommending me things! Lol.

The prompts I still need to check off are:

  • Nonfiction by a woman historian
  • Afrofuturism or Africanfuturism
  • Inspired by folklore
  • About a woman artist
  • Read and watch book to movie adaptation
  • By an Arab woman
  • Over 500p
  • Frequently recommended to you
  • A feel good/happy book
  • By a favourite or new-to-you publisher
  • Bonus: Book by Toni Morrison
  • Bonus: Book by Isabel Allende


Leave a comment »