City of Ash and Red – Hye-Young Pyun

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We live in #Gothic times. And as a cautionary reminder that the pandemic is not over… we have one uncanny book rec:

When I first started in on City of Ash and Red, I did not realize it was a pandemic book. Originally written in Korean, Hye-Young Pyun’s urban horror/ slow burn thriller was brought into English in 2018. I don’t think the timing could be more eerie.

The story centers on an unnamed protagonist who moves to an unnamed country to start a new job at a rat extermination firm. However, he arrives in the middle of a pandemic that has thrown the city into virtual lockdown. Our protagonist is unable to begin work and is unable to contact anyone at all for that matter after losing his luggage and communications shortly upon his arrival. He also doesn’t speak the language, which, in the midst of a pandemic, is problematic. –
The company he moved for has no record of him starting work there and there’s miles and miles and miles of red tape preventing him from sorting it out. He then learns that he is suspected of murdering his ex-wife back in his home country, preventing him from returning. As his life gradually spirals into disarray in this foreign, pandemic affected city, his forced isolation makes him realize he’s not the person he thought he was.

If Kafka ever had written a novel about a pandemic, this would be it. The book is superbly written. I personally enjoyed the “hazy on the details” approach to place and character building (sometimes). And, though I never thought id be an expert of pandemic lockdown procedures, this book nails it. Even the conversations they have are the exact conversations we’re having today (“Is this really any worse than a regular flu season”, “Don’t more people die in car accidents each year?”, “do you know anyone who’s even gotten sick”).

Most probably aren’t looking for a pandemic story at the moment, but perhaps the thing I enjoyed most about reading this book was that it proved that what we’re living through isn’t so beyond the imaginative after all

Story By The Editors