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City of Ash and Red

3.18  ·  Rating details ·  720 ratings  ·  140 reviews
For fans of J. G. Ballard and early Ian McEwan, a tense psychological thriller and Kafkaesque parable by the author of The Hole―called “an airtight masterpiece” by the Korean Economic Daily.

Distinguished for his talents as a rat killer, the nameless protagonist of Hye-young Pyun's City of Ash and Red is sent by the extermination company he works for on an extended assignm
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published November 6th 2018 by Arcade Publishing (first published February 25th 2010)
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Average rating 3.18  · 
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 ·  720 ratings  ·  140 reviews

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Nov 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, netgalley
This was a very strange book, but I don’t mean that as a criticism. In a way I think that the blurb gives away too much and it might be better to read it after you have read the book. The unnamed protagonist, referred to only as “the man”, is sent for management training to the home office of his extermination company, based in his skill at killing rats. The home office is in another country, called C, that is in the grips of a contagious and sometimes fatal disease and a general breakdown of so ...more
May 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: translated
This is a disgusting novel—and I mean that literally. The setting, the atmosphere, and the main character inspire disgust. It's an odd thing to read something that seems to make you want to hate everything about it, yet is still compulsively readable. The translation is excellent and the plot is compelling. However, in the end I found myself a bit ambivalent about the book's meaning and purpose. If it meant only to get a visceral reaction out of the reader, it has succeeded. But left with not mu ...more
Jan 18, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: korean
I read Hye-Young Pyun's 'The Hole' and really liked it, enough so that it made my 2018 Top-Ten List. So I was happy to see this second novel of hers published in translation. This promised horror and allegory and Kafkaesque-ness. And, for reasons that are unimportant, I have an interest in Korean literature. So, I clicked, and read it immediately upon receipt.

But I didn't like it. And, I have to say, I don't think Kafka would have liked it either. The rats and pesticides and garbage are kind of
Nov 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes you read and love a book, but when you have to explain it to someone, you fumble for words.

This is one of those books. In City of Ash and Red, we have a pandemic. It's a quiet one, but a deadly one. Our main character, who remains nameless, is promoted, but that promotion takes into a country beset by disease - a country where he knows no one and can barely speak the language. Once there, he discovers that his ex-wife (back home) has been murdered...and he is the prime suspect.

But what

Once again, what an incredibly immersive yet eerily uncomfortable read.

The main character, just like in The Hole is an absolute shithead. Really, a first-rate douchebag yet you can’t help but feel a little... sympathy? Towards him.
How does she create characters that inspire nothing but a pure physical and psychological torture yet still make you feel for them?

The Hole is still my absolute favourite of her books but I enjoyed this just as much. The only reason being that TH suffocated me
Silvia Moreno-Garcia
I've taken to calling it High-Rise if J.G. Ballard took on a whole neighborhood instead of just one luxury apartment building. See my full review at NPR: ...more
Audra (ouija.doodle.reads)
A contagious disease in an unnamed country is upsetting the balance of society, and our unnamed narrator, who thinks he is moving to this country for a job opportunity instead gets lost in a tangled web of bureaucracy, mountains of trash and the vermin that come with it, and questions about the life he left behind.

Hye-Young Pyun’s novel The Hole, which won the Shirley Jackson award, felt to me an entirely different style of writing from this book. It is actually impressive how different these b
Oct 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: edelweiss, netgalley
The unnamed narrator is known for his talents as a rat killer. The extermination company he works for has given him what many consider to be a promotion and is sent to Country C. However, when the man gets to Country C, he finds its streets are overrun with rats and piled high with rotting garbage with horrible odors. There’s also a deadly rampant virus going around and men walk around in hazmat suits. When he finds out that his new job has been postponed, he thinks things can’t get any worse. B ...more
DeAnna Knippling
May 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A tale of madness, woe, trash, and rats.

This is a particular type of story that one sees from time to time, sometimes overt, but more usually hidden. I hadn't seen a Korean one before, so I wasn't expecting it, and didn't catch on until I finished. Everything in the book is nicely calculated to that particular story, but may be too deeply hidden in Western audiences to pick up on. (The clues would have to be slightly different.)

So, without spoiling too much, let us say that this is a Kafkaesque
Nov 12, 2018 rated it did not like it
I can't tell if this was supposed to be dismal or absurdist or both. A nameless male protagonist whose work centers around killing pests is sent to work in a similarly unnamed city far from home, where society has crumbled and the city is filled with trash and pestilence. The protagonist should get no sympathy, however, as he's an admitted rapist and abuser, and as his life and the meaning in it spiral away, well, I cared less and less. I think on the surface this is a metaphor for inhumanity, a ...more
Daniel Polansky
A faintly-drawn corporate stooge goes to work as a rat killer in a foreign country, finds himself embroiled in a Kafkaesque nightmare of moral and environmental collapse. Unpleasant but utterly predictable. I didn’t get a lot from this, except for a few facts about rats
I received this from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Very strange book. No real plot or explanation of why things were happening.

Not my cup of tea right now, but I may come back and reread this one if only to try to understand it a little better.
Dec 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

Well, I have no idea what I just read, but I loved almost every word of it. Make no mistake, this book is not for the faint of heart or queasy of stomach. This is a sometimes brutal and disgusting novel, but yet one that kept me captivated and on the edge of every next word, even if I was terrified what it was going to be.

I know I'm generalizing, but in my limited exposure to Korean fiction, it is intense, disturbing stuff. But while being those things, also maintains this weird sense o
Isabelle | Nine Tale Vixen
I received a free copy of this book through Edelweiss for review purposes. This does not affect my rating or opinions.

1.5 stars. Definitely not because that's the only rating I haven't given out yet this year and I want to even out my book stats bar graph.

Honestly, I never meant to finish this book - but I kept finding myself thinking, Oh, I'll stop after I finish this chapter, just in case something exciting happens, and nothing exciting would happen but for some reason I would keep reading? So
May 10, 2019 rated it it was ok
skip the Kafka and Ballard comparisons for this one, not because i hate the idea of comparing authors based on simple plot devices (which i do), but because this book is rather average, and Kafka didn't do average (haven't read any Ballard, so can't say anything about his output)... i like Pyun's writing style, it fits the story he is tying to tell, but there isn't much of a story, to be honest... not all that dystopian or bureaucratically circular either, just a few hints of both, sort of... i ...more
Katherine Cooper
Jan 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Truly one of the strangest novels I've ever read.

I'm a big believer that the main character of a story doesn't have to be inherently good, so perhaps that's why I still managed to enjoy this story. The main character is hardly ever sympathetic, if at all. His lack of morality fits nicely with the bleak world in which he is immersed, though, and I enjoyed being disturbed by the total doom and gloom of this fictional world.
May 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Following the literary tradition of surreal (and often horrific) writers like Kobo Abe, Kafka, and a pinch of Indra Das, this horror novel by Mrs. Pyun is the worthwhile next of kin. The best parts of this book were how strong the mood and obedience to the themes were. In the style of Kafka, the Unnamed Protagonist, no matter where he goes, is endlessly besieged by forces, people, and situations he can barely begin to understand. He is always confused. He is constantly debased. He is consistentl ...more
Jan 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
Slightly infuriating. This is so good. SO good. But the ending doesn't quite work in that it ultimately feels very unresolved and it brings the whole novel down. iirc, I had the same issue with the ending to The Hole so maybe it's an author thing?

Side note, the uhhh...public reaction to the pandemic in this book is so eerily prescient.
Dec 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the most sensory books I have ever read, I want so badly to adapt this into a movie. The visuals, imagery, scene-setting are all incredible. I was slightly disappointed that what started as a mysterious discussion of guilt and identity didn't quite carry itself convincingly to the end, but I loved reading this book. The actual story was beyond engaging, even if the thematic weight fizzled out (for me at least) by the actual narrative crux. Pyun is a master of the craft, and I can't wait t ...more
John Armstrong
Aug 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: korean-modern
Great book though not equal to The Hole which is truly great. Comparison with J. C. Ballard is apt.
Jul 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
In a future time, a highly contagious disease in an unnamed country called C has completely upended the social order. Rats, mountains of garbage, and infection have ravaged the streets. The unnamed narrator, a foreign rat catcher, believes he has been given a promotion when he moves to Country C for an assignment. When he arrives, he finds that his new job has been placed on hold and he is forcibly quarantined in his apartment. His mental state completely collapses when he receives a call from h ...more
Jun 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ppl, sci-fi-dystopia
A very effective and timely dystopian narrative of a world in the throes of a viral epidemic/pandemic.

A definite page-turner. It was ca. 30+ years ago that I last read any works by Franz Kafka, so I can't compare this story to any of his. However, I feel better about letting this one stand on its own merit.

I see that many other readers have complained about the protagonist -"the man" without a name, but his inhumanity, whether to other people, or animals was an essential part of this story. He,
Nov 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-52-in-52
Rounded up from 3.5. City of Ash & Red is the first translated book I’ve read this year and had me all over the spectrum emotionally, mostly in the anxious and disturbed realm. There are certainly nods to Kafka, but the tale itself is a unique blend of dystopian surrealism that is both relatable and deeply unsettling.

The unnamed protagonist, who is stranded in a foreign country, barely able to communicate, and missing almost all of his possessions, starts off vaguely sympathetic, but as more is
Oct 09, 2018 rated it liked it
The beginning of Hye-young Pyun’s novel, City of Ash and Red, (translated by Sora Kim-Russell), terrified me because it presents one of my worst fears. An unnamed man arrives in a foreign city to take up a job, only to end up without his phone, documents, most of his possessions, and eventually the apartment his new employer set up. He doesn’t speak the language well. All the phone numbers he might call were stored in his phone. He’s on his own. Meanwhile, an epidemic and a garbage strike are ma ...more
Jan 02, 2019 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Leah Andrews
May 06, 2019 rated it liked it
Maybe I didn't really get it.
This is an unsettling book. The unnamed main character (not sure if he can really be called a protagonist) works for a pest control company and relocates to an unnamed city in an unnamed country during an outbreak of a contagious disease. It's hard for me to say what this is really about: contagious disease, cultural differences, bureaucracy, rumors, human nature, evil in general? I liked how different it was from what I typically read. Though this was a translation
Feb 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Intriguing, weird book about a nameless man who travels to another country for work, and immediately a series of terrible events affect him. While he's a sympathetic character, he's also guilty of many terrible things himself, as are revealed in his internal reflections and memories. Its hard to get a grasp on the whole story though; its dark throughout, and whatever redemption the reader might find is lost in - both literally and figuratively - the fog of disaster happening as the book progress ...more
Oct 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley, e-book, horror
Major kudos to both the author and translator for crafting such a compelling tale full of unease and disorientation. City of Ash and Red is one of the far superior modern novels with a dystopian theme I've read in a long time. Perhaps that is due to the fact that the setting is not the true focus of the book, but compliments the main story with nightmarish and nauseating imagery throughout.

A brilliantly unsettling and subtle horror story with a unforgettable protagonist.

With thanks to Netgalle
Dec 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
I HATE rats! So that made parts of this book a very hard read for me. But once I forced myself through the rat parts I enjoyed the Kafkaeqsue the main character was on. He was a pretty bad person but somehow his journey made you forget that and root for him (at least I did). I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that. On the whole it was interesting take on the fall into a dystopian society and coming through the other side. Without giving any spoilers I will say that I appreciated the last cha ...more
Feb 14, 2019 rated it did not like it
If you enjoy reading a book that centers around a nasty person living in a sewer in a foreign country where he has trouble communicating while trying to survive a epidemic that has caused the city to be a huge garbage dump, and the killing of rats is pretty much all that transpires, well, then, this book is for you.

The only reason I slogged through it was because I thought that surely something was going to happen....and it was only 300 pages. That turned out to be 200 too many pages, and, nothi
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편혜영(片惠英,1972년~)은 대한민국의 소설가이다. 서울에서 태어났으며, 서울예대 문예창작과를 졸업하고 한양대학교 국어국문학과 대학원 석사과정을 졸업했다. 2000년 서울신문 신춘문예에 단편소설 〈이슬털기〉가 당선되면서 데뷔했다. 2007년 단편소설 〈사육장 쪽으로〉로 제40회 한국일보문학상을, 2009년 단편소설 〈토끼의 묘〉로 제10회 이효석문학상을, 2012년 소설집 〈저녁의 구애〉로 제42회 동인문학상을, 2014년 단편소설 〈몬순〉으로 제38회 이상문학상을 수상했다. 현재 명지대학교 문예창작학과 교수(2013~)로 재직 중이다.

Pyun Hye-young was born in Seoul in 1972. She earned her undergraduate degree in creative writin

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“Fear and rumors and viruses shared a similar nature. They bore a tremendous vitality of their own, oblivious to human efforts to stamp them out. They could spread rapidly even while offering no clue to their routes of transmission. And they would burn for a long, long time, like dry grassland, only to vanish in an instant as if doused with water.” 1 likes
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