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[Herald Interview] Author Yun Ko-eun sees his dagger-winning “The Disaster Tourist” as a fluid genre

Yun Ko-eun poses with his book, “The Disaster Tourist,” during an interview with The Korea Herald on Wednesday. (Park Hyun-koo / The Korea Herald)

Unlike the typically mysterious, vivid and dark image of mystery writers, no trace of sinister could be found in the appearance of Yun Ko-eun, 42, the winner of the CWA Crime Fiction in Translation Dagger from this year, which looks bright, positive and full of energy.

The CWA Daggers, created in 1955 by the Crime Writers’ Association, are awarded for the best detective writing in 11 categories, including fiction and non-fiction. Yun is the first Asian to be recognized, along with Lizzie Buehler, who translated the work from Korean to English.

The award-winning novel “The Disaster Tourist” centers on Yona, coordinator of a travel agency specializing in disaster tourism, such as in areas affected by tsunamis, hurricanes and other natural disasters. Yona is about to quit after 10 years at the company when the boss, who sexually harassed her, tells her to take a break instead and sends her on vacation. The story takes place as Yona encounters a desert chasm on a remote island.

Published in the UK last year by Serpent’s Tail, the novel received positive reviews. The Guardian called the book an “entertaining ecological thriller that aims to shed light on how climate change is inextricably linked to the pressures of global capitalism.” It was also on Time magazine’s “12 new books to read in August” list.

“I’m ready to dive into this fantastic wormhole and write even more freely from now on,” Yun said in an online acceptance speech on July 1.

“If I had known I was going to win the prize at 3:30 a.m., I would have written my speech more thoughtfully,” Yun said a week after the victory in an interview with The Korea Herald at the Prince Hotel. from Seoul. . The hotel in Myeong-dong runs an author support program, providing space for writing and organizing meetings and seminars.

Yun explained that the vortex was a theme that lingered in his mind after it was brought up on his radio show when talking about Christopher Nolan’s 2014 film “Interstellar”.

These random moments and ideas made the author what she is today.

“The year I remember was 2005, when I first proposed the theme of ‘The Tourist in Disaster.’ I saw an article on black tourism, that there were people dressed in waterproof gear to go to areas where natural disasters had struck. It was a new moment of shock and fear for me, ”she said.

Yun then began to look at natural disasters in recent history and how different people have sought to meet their divergent needs in the aftermath of disasters. Likewise, it is up to critics and readers to decide which category the novel fits best, Yun explained.

“The Disaster Tourist” is now one of five long-running translated works shortlisted for the 2021 Science Fiction and Fantasy Rosetta Awards, proving the flexibility of the book genre.

Translator Buehler, a 26-year-old doctoral student. a student in the Department of Comparative Literature at Harvard University, is one of many to whom Yun is grateful. “My dear friend Lizzie and I exchanged emails for four years, first becoming friends online. I first met her in person in 2019 and gave her a tour of the city and places from which I took my ideas. I gladly became her travel agent for the day, ”she said.

Since Buehler had read all of Yun’s writings, she was the first foreign reader Yun could turn to for honest feedback. Yun explained how lucky it was for her that Buehler took her book, found it interesting, and started working on its translation.

“The tourist of the disaster” (LTI Korea)

Even though the exchange of detailed questions and answers with the translator was an enjoyable process, communication was not easy when it came to presenting his stories to make them appealing to a global audience.

She cited discussions with her publisher and agency on the cover of the book as an example.

“At first I didn’t like the cover of the book. I loved the yellow and blue tone, but the model was not at all the character I envisioned while writing, ”she said. The Asian model’s seemingly crooked torso and legs in a swimsuit, contrasting with the peaceful and almost expressionless face, was an unpleasant illustration to watch, ”Yun said.

However, after numerous email exchanges of reissued versions, Yun returned to the original cover. “I like the blanket now. It is a lucky charm that I carry in my bag. Yun grinned, gently patting the cover of the book.

When asked how she felt about being introduced as part of a group of young Korean writers setting new milestones for Korean literature abroad, Yun responded cautiously. “Frankly, I never considered myself to be worthy of any particular category.”

Yun feels the same when she brings a character to life in her stories. Protagonist Yona’s situation is not specifically related to what is happening in Korean companies, but rather to the abuse of power and violence that could take place in any company today.

Asked about Yun’s hopes for the Korean literary industry and what elements need more support, she said it is extremely important to let writers write whatever they want, regardless of market trends. and popularity.

“Creating an atmosphere for writers to keep their own world silent is vital,” said Yun, who also wished Korean literary works could be translated soon after publication so that readers around the world could understand the story at a time not too much. far from when it was written.

Yun’s next article is about Marriage Insurance, a satirical novel highlighting the problems of marriage with capitalist market-driven ideas.

By Kim Hae-yeon ([email protected])


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Margarita W. Wilson

The author Margarita W. Wilson