Viking: The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Disaster Tourist

Pristine beaches, spectacular landscapes, cultural landmarks might have been the go-to tourist destinations once upon a time, but in Yun Ko-eun's sly, compelling novel, The Disaster Tourist, scenes of death and destruction are where people really want to go.

Jungle, where Yona Ko has been working for 10-plus years, is one of these travel providers, and her professional success makes her a personal target of Team Leader Kim's sexual abuse. She's not alone, but Human Resources offers nothing more than "This kind of incident happens all the time.... If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen." When Yona finally submits her resignation, Kim instead offers her a month-long break, assigning her to evaluate one of the company's less-popular packages.

Yona chooses "Desert Sinkhole," which promises "volcanoes, deserts and hot springs all in the same location." She arrives on the island nation of Mui and joins five others to explore vestiges of genocide, perilous hazards and continued misfortune. When it's time to go home, Yona gets separated from the group on the journey to the airport--without her passport, wallet, luggage and only her dying phone. She manages to return to the resort, where the manager eventually presents her with a marketing plan to boost Mui's disaster-desirability and thereby save the residents from obscure starvation. Yona can hardly refuse.

Yun's English-language debut arrives in an agile translation by Lizzie Buehler. This disturbing novel might initially feel far-fetched, but Yun skillfully exposes an insatiability both to create and to consume anomalous experiences at any cost. With deft ingenuity, she transforms seeming surreality into chilling reality. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon