Ko- Eun Yun
The Disaster Tourist
Minumsa/Korea (2013). 252 pages. Translated by Lizzie Buehler
sold to Hannah Westland at Profile Books – pub date 2020. ‘full translation by Lizzie Beuhler due July 2019.
Yona has spent the past ten years working as a programming coordinator for the travel company Jungle. Jungle specializes in vacation packages to destinations that have been ravaged by disaster—its customers can choose the trip of their choice from amongst 152 types of catastrophes. Flood zones, the aftermaths of tsunami, ravaged neighborhoods destroyed by earthquakes—all are places that Jungle customers pay to visit. As the novel begins, Yona has just embarked on a weekend business trip to Jinhae, scouting the recently-flooded city as a potential new travel package. Yona has hit a slump at work, and it seems that her coworkers have banded against her, talking about things behind her back and always leaving her out of the conversation. Things worsen when a coworker tries to inappropriately touch her at work. Yona decides to quit. In an attempt to hold onto an employee as valuable as Yona, her boss offers her paid vacation time, with the stipulation that she spend her vacation going one of Jungle’s trips as a secret monitor. The trip is a candidate for removal from Jungle’s offerings, and Yona’s job upon return to Korea is to write a report that will help the company decide whether or not to remove it. Soon, Yona is on a plane towards Southeast Asia, to a sinkhole in the middle of the desert, called “Mui.” Under the guise that she’s a café owner, she befriends her fellow travelers for the six-day trip. She begins to understand why Jungle no longer wants to host trips to Mui—it’s boring, and there’s not much to do there other than look at the sinkhole. At the end of the trip, on the train back to the airport, Yona’s trip suddenly becomes much more exciting. The car she is in gets disconnected from the rest of the train, and Yona is left alone with no way to get home. She decides to return to the resort where she was staying. Upon her return to Belle Époque, as the resort is called, she learns that the manager has discovered that she is a Jungle employee, and he knows that his business is at risk. Worried about his resort no longer receiving revenue from Jungle trips, he has decided to create a new, man-made disaster at the site, and he enlists Yona’s help. Yona reluctantly agrees to help, but the disaster quickly grows much more catastrophic than initially intended. Soon, Yona’s own life is in danger, as is the life of a local for whom she’s begun to have romantic feelings. Yona must decide whether or not she should stay or run—and she also must grapple with uncertainties about the ethics of the business she has been involved in for so long.