The Book Briefing: Nicole Dennis-Benn, “The White Lotus”
Vacations are often described as escapes in which one leaves the stresses of home behind and travels to a blissful, worry-free paradise. Yet, as the best literature on tourism makes clear, there is a cost to believing that any destination could be simple.
by Sarah Stodola The last resort, which traces the history of the hotel by the ocean, easily exposes the dark side of this fantasy. In a story that begins with the murder of a Roman emperor’s mother and extends to the modern erosion of Hawaii’s beaches, it shows the obvious human and ecological damage these complexes cause. Barry Lopez’s travelogue-memoir hybrid Horizon shows how these concerns extend to virtually all travel. While his descriptions of distant places are breathtaking, his writing is shot through with climate-induced existential dread and a keen awareness of locals whose needs too often come after the demands of tourists.
This dark perspective also permeates works of fiction. Grab HBO’s intro montage The White Lotus. In this one, the camera zooms in on the tacky wallpaper of the show’s titular resort, showing rows of pictorial photos tropical plants and animals, which then slowly begin to bleed. Yun Ko-Eun’s Satire The disaster touristwhich focuses on a business that guides its customers through disaster-stricken places, is even more literal in its violence. To attract more visitors to a less successful destination, several people associated with the company work together to manufacture a disaster, effectively accepting that, in the process, the locals will die.
In here comes the sun, Nicole Dennis-Benn takes a realistic approach, focusing on the lives of Jamaican hotel workers whose work hides the island’s poverty from its visitors. His deep care and attention underscores the lackluster, psychic toll of being constantly exoticized.
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What we read
Maria Jesus Contreras
Beware the luxury resort
“For catastrophists like me, the luxury resort raises a whole new set of psychological torments on top of those provided by more ordinary beaches. All the while we’re in our so-called paradise, I’m busy obsessing over the unintended consequences of our stay, such as environmental degradation caused by the influx of unnecessary tourists into delicate ecosystems and racial issues. and displacement classists.
How Climate Change Has Influenced Travel Writing
“[Barry] Lopez is gripped by the urgency of telling “a cohesive and meaningful story” about the threat of human extinction resulting from climate change and societal decline, and what he believes can be done to prevent it.” .
Mario Perez / HBO
The leisure class always wins
“White Lotus hosts assume the world revolves around them. The station’s garish and sinister decor proves them right.
🎥 The White Lotuson HBO Max
Peter Marlow / Magnum
This is what happens when society “has to work”
“Yun [Ko-Eun’s] the satire of late capitalism argues that the identity we find through work is almost always shaped by how we have been exploited – or how we have exploited others.
Frances F. Denny / The New York Times / Redux / Paul Spella / The Atlantic
A novel that weighs the costs of love and motherhood
“Women, especially mothers, make cruel choices in Nicole Dennis-Benn’s novels.”
About Us: This week’s newsletter is written by Kate Cray. The book she reads next is my brilliant friendby Elena Ferrante.
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