Leonora Craig Cohen is an editor at Serpent’s Tail, an independent literary publishing house based in London.
Books she has worked on recently include Sea Change by Alix Nathan, Pop Song by Larissa Pham and All of You Every Single One by Beatrice Hitchman.
Serpent’s Tail was founded in 1986 to introduce British readers to daring new voices from around the world and the Publisher of the imprint is Hannah Westland.
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We are an award-winning literary imprint which was established in 1986 with a mission to introduce readers to exciting, innovative writing by a diverse range of authors both from the UK and around the world. Serpent’s Tail is an imprint of the independent publishing house Profile Books and is based in London, England. We are the British home of authors including Sarah Perry, Karen Joy Fowler and Carmen Maria Machado and recently launched a sister imprint, Viper, which publishes crime, mystery and thriller fiction.
Yun Ko-eun’s THE DISASTER TOURIST, translated into English by Lizzie Buehler follows Yona, an overworked programming coordinator at the disaster tourism firm Jungle. When a senior colleague touches her inappropriately she tries to complain, and in an attempt to bury her allegations, the company make her an attractive proposition: a free ticket for one of their most sought-after trips, to the desert island of Mui. She accepts the offer and travels to the remote island, where the major attraction is a supposedly-dramatic sinkhole. When the customers who’ve paid a premium for the trip begin to get frustrated, Yona realises that the company has dangerous plans to fabricate an environmental catastrophe to make the trip more interesting, but when she tries to raise the alarm, she discovers she has put her own life in danger.
The Publisher of Serpent’s Tail, Hannah Westland, and I were immediately fascinated and gripped by the translated sample sent to us by Barbara Zitwer, a brilliant literary agent who is particularly renowned for introducing contemporary Korean fiction in translation to the English-speaking world.
We were especially keen to publish THE DISASTER TOURIST as it spoke clearly and urgently to a great many issues facing people around the world, from environmental devastation, institutional sexism and the damage wrought by predatory capitalism in impoverished communities popular with holiday-makers. Yun Ko-eun’s writing is darkly humorous, polished and deeply insightful about the moral calculations ordinary people are often forced to make in balancing their survival against larger considerations. We knew very quickly that we were reading the work of a talented and original writer and were particularly impressed with Lizzi Buehler’s skill in translating the sample. Hannah Westland was the lead editor for English translation of The Disaster Tourist and I was privileged to work under her during the process. I am now the editorial point of contact for the novel in the UK and it continues to be a pleasure remaining in close contact with Lizzie, Ko-eun, Barbara and the rest of the Serpent’s Tail team about how best to present the novel to readers here.
Climate change is one of the biggest problems, if not the very biggest, facing humanity today and many people are interested in reading about the ways it affects the lives of those around them. It is inevitable that writers’ concerns about this problem are reflected in both fiction and non-fiction and with calls for action growing, so has the preponderance of thoughtful, impactful writing on this topic. Fiction is a vital space where imaginative responses to the world around us can flourish and British readers are increasingly flocking towards literary representations of both our fractious present and our possible futures. We have recently been privileged to publish Oana Aristide’s daring, suspenseful novel UNDER THE BLUE which explores both Artificial Intelligence and the apocalyptic consequences of a virus released by melting polar ice and Arni Snær Magnason’s lyrical essays mourning humankind’s destruction of nature in ON TIME AND WATER. We look forward to publishing more timely literary writing in this vein.
The reaction of British readers has been immensely positive – the book has been well reviewed by many newspapers and magazines and its themes thoughtfully discussed by critics. There has been a particular interest in discussing the novel’s representation of feminist questions in modern Korea and the contrasts and similarities to life in Britain.
Yun Ko-eun was recently awarded the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger for fiction in translation, a prestigious literary prize for thriller and mystery fiction, and we are very proud indeed of how her work has struck a chord with readers here.
We are always on the lookout for works that give new insight and knowledge into how life is lived today in other countries but which simultaneously engages with common human concerns like love, work, friendship, family and nature. The ideal work in translation is one which retains the distinctiveness of the original language and culture from which it sprang but has the capacity to connect with readers who may not immediately be familiar with these. THE DISASTER TOURIST is the perfect example of a book which does these things very effectively and is also an impressively refined artistic work.
We don’t currently have anyone in mind but would very much like to read more Korean literary works in translation and discover great writing that introduces us to a variety of important topics about Korean life. Some examples of the type of novels by Korean authors we would most love to look at in the future include Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, Un-su Kim’s The Plotters and Shin Kyung-Sook’s The Court Dancer.
Despite the last year and a half of restricted travel, we would like to reassure Korean readers and publishers that a great many people in Britain remain interested in learning about global issues and listening to voices from abroad. We also send our good wishes in these strange and difficult times and the hope for better things to come.