I was intrigued by the premise of Yun Ko-eun's The Disaster Tourist. It's about a South Korean woman named Yona, who works for a travel company called Jungle that organizes holidays based around disaster zones. After being assaulted by her boss, and knowing that if she makes a fuss she'll lose her job, Yona accepts the offer of a business trip to assess one of Jungle's destinations: the fictional island of Mui.
Mui's primary source of income has been from tourists who take guided tours of its disaster locations: a sink hole and a volcano. Unfortunately visitor numbers are down, people are losing interest. There are much worse, more recent disasters that draw the crowds. Jungle intends to remove the island from its itinerary.
Translated from Korean, the writing style didn't engage me initially. Much of the story is told from Yona's point of view which often seemed dispassionate. I wasn't sure how much of this was due to the nature of the original language and how its structure affects translation, or even Lizzie Buehler's translation itself. After a while tho' I got used to it.
It's a quirky story, a dystopia that stayed with me after turning the last page. For such a speculative fiction to work it needs to contain elements of truth, and I began to wonder if there really are tourists who visit places affected by disasters. If so, how do they spend their money at the 'resort'. Sure, there are places like Pompeii and Herculaneum which draw huge numbers in spite of the fact that Mount Vesuvius is still active. But what about more recent catastrophes? I started googling. Online you'll find details of a one-day tour to visit the "earthquake-stricken area" in Fukushima, and an "eye-opening experience of post-Apocalyptic world" Chernobyl Tour. Who makes money from these tours? And how much of the income, if any, benefits the people who are affected?
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