The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-eun is one of those books which makes you stop and think about your responsibility as a traveller.
Although it is a work of fiction, the book raises some really interesting questions about why we visit a place and the impact on locals when somewhere becomes famous due to a catastophy that has befallen it.
The book tells the story of Yona, who works for a travel company called Jungle which specialises in trips to destinations devastated by disaster and climate change.
After trying to complain about the inappropriate behaviour of her boss, Yona is offered an attractive proposition: a free ticket on one of the company’s trips to the island of Mui.
Yona accepts the offer but soon begins to notice problems with the island and its residents during her stay.
The main ‘disaster’ attraction on the island is supposed to be a dramatic sinkhole, but visitors are no longer impressed by the catastrophe which happened years ago. That’s when Yona realises that the company has dangerous plans to fabricate an environmental catastrophe to make the trip more interesting. She then faces the moral dilemma of whether to go along with the plan or try to raise the alarm, which could put her own life in danger.
What I enjoyed most about this book is the way in which it brought so many current issues together, from the sexual harassment many women experience in the workplace, to issues around dark tourism and climate change.
Another big theme of the book was characters turning a blind eye to the bigger picture of what was going on, with each one saying ‘I’m just doing my job’. It therefore provides a sobering lesson on what can happen if people don’t stop to ask questions about their roles.
The Disaster Tourist is one of those books that is weird and wonderful to read, sometimes you’re not always sure what is happening, but it also makes you stop and think. Both about the impact of dark tourism and how it can sometimes have a negative impact on communities trying to recover. Personally it made me think about previous places I have visited and my reasons for doing so.
This book was the winner of the CWA Crime Fiction in Translation Dagger 2021 and I can’t wait to read more from Yun Ko-Eun.
For more #travelbookclub reads check out my other travel book reviews here.