City of Ash and Red: A Novel (Paperback)

City of Ash and Red: A Novel By Hye-young Pyun, Sora Kim-Russell (Translated by) Cover Image

City of Ash and Red: A Novel (Paperback)

By Hye-young Pyun, Sora Kim-Russell (Translated by)


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From the Shirley Jackson Award–winning author of The Hole, a Kafkaesque tale of crime and punishment hailed by Korea’s Wall Street Journal as “an airtight masterpiece.”

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 assignment in C, a country descending into chaos and paranoia, swept by a contagious disease, and flooded with trash. No sooner does he disembark than he is whisked away by quarantine officials and detained overnight. Isolated and forgotten, he realizes that he is stranded with no means of contacting the outside world. Still worse, when he finally manages to reach an old friend, he is told that his ex-wife's body was found in his apartment and he is the prime suspect. Barely managing to escape arrest, he must struggle to survive in the streets of this foreign city gripped with fear of contamination and reestablish contact with his company and friends in order to clear his reputation.

But as the man's former life slips further and further from his grasp, and he looks back on his time with his wife, it becomes clear that he may not quite be who he seems. From the bestselling author of The Hole, City of Ash and Red is an apocalyptic account of the destructive impact of fear and paranoia on people's lives as well as a haunting novel about a man’s loss of himself and his humanity.
Hye-young Pyun was born in 1972. She made her literary debut in Korean in 2000 when she won Seoul Shinmun's annual New Writer's Contest with her short story "Shaking Off Dew." She has gone on to publish four short story collections and five novels. She has received several of Korea's most prestigious literary awards, including the Dong-in Literary Award in 2011, the Yi-sang Literary Award in 2014, and the Hyundae Munhak Award in 2015. She has published short stories in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, and Words Without Borders. City of Ash and Red was named Book of the Year when it was published in Poland, and it has been licensed to France, Turkey, China, and Vietnam as well. Her novel The Hole is a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award. She lives in Seoul, Korea.

Sora Kim-Russell is a literary translator based in Seoul. Her translations include Hwang Sok-yong’s Princess Bari, Suah Bae’s Nowhere to be Found, and Kyung-sook Shin’s I’ll Be Right There. She teaches at Ewha Womans University and the Literary Translation Institute of Korea. Her full list of publications can be found at

City of Ash and Red will pull you into its nightmare. . . . Whether you want to believe this is a grim look at the human condition or an exciting bit of weird fiction, it's worth a read.”―NPR

“Hye-Young Pyun creates a dark allegory of humankind in this apocalyptic novel. . . . A horrific nightmare that won't soon be forgotten.”—Shelf Awareness

"Devoutly stark and in tune with the pangs of urban alienation . . . Pyun offers her work to an international audience on her own terms, by speaking directly to the state of alienation made familiar to much of the world by globalization. . . . The amnesiac protagonist is left unnamed because he is us.”—Jae Won Chung, Boston Review

"This book is not for everyone, but then neither was The Vegetarian, or Confessions, or The Cat in the Coffin. It’s also not easily classified: Horror? Dystopian? Thriller? Doesn’t matter. If it’s to your taste, this book will keep you reading long past any previously established threshold of morbidity."—LitHub

“An apocalyptic tale on the human condition, rife with Kafkaesque paranoia and brutal isolation.”—This Is Horror

"Haunting."—World Literature Today

"Dark and harrowing . . . [Pyun is a] master at maintaining tension, even in the most everyday scenes. Hair-raising passages abound. . . . Sora Kim-Russell has done a particularly good job of getting the voice of the narrator just right."—Wasafiri

“A novel that could easily have been written by Kafka himself. . . . And for those unfamiliar with the Kafkaesque, know that if you feel a familiar tug at your heart when you read of a man lost and frightened, even as an adult, wondering how his life became what it is, and why he cannot find help where he expects it to be, know that you will find company in this story and with its readers.”―Books and Bao

"Another gruesome masterpiece."―Crime Reads, "Daily Thrill"

“A daring post-apocalyptic novel from a powerful rising literary voice. . . . A highly hypnotic tale that will draw you in and hit you where it hurts. Pyun's novel The Hole was a masterclass and this one is no different.”―Signal Horizon

"Kafkaesque . . . Those with a taste for creepy suspense will be rewarded."―Publishers Weekly

“Kim-Russell’s ability to replicate Pyun’s stifling terror repeats here . . . Stripped of identity, language, and ethics, the cost of survival for Pyun’s protagonist proves to be his very humanity. A slap-in-the-face parable of the perils of society failures. Pyun’s suffocating tale reveals a future all too possible and real.”―Booklist

“A story that strikes fear and uneasiness into the reader.”―Evilcyclist’s Blog

“A wonderfully malevolent, Kafkaesque tale of a man who is completely and utterly lost . . . Hye Young-Pyun’s skill is to make you think that, just when it could not get worse for him, it does.”―The Modern Novel

“Chilling . . . The hits keep coming.”―A Bookish Type

“Pyun’s narration creates a wonderful sense of desperation in her central character, sending him scrambling towards any attempt at salvation even as his life falls to pieces . . . . It’s that feeling of paranoia as things continue to dissolve within the narrator’s mind that truly sets the book apart.”—B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy blog, "Best Horror Books of 2018"

“Disturbing, but impressive."—Complete Review

“In this tautly knit novel by a brilliant stylist, a world of darkness you’d never want to encounter in real life unfolds mysteriously before your eyes. Soon you’ll find yourself gripped by the fear that what the protagonist experiences could happen to you. Yet, captivated by the enthralling writing and brutal imaginings, you won’t be able to put the book down until you’ve experienced its darkness to the very end."―Kyung-sook Shin, Man Asian Prize–winning author of Please Look After Mom and The Court Dancer

"In the tradition of Kafka, Camus, and Murakami, Pyun takes us on an unflinching, intensely visceral journey through the dark and nightmarish underbelly of our mundane world.”―Heinz Insu Fenkl, author of the PEN/Hemingway Award finalist Memories of My Ghost Brother

“As a story of one man's struggle to maintain sanity against the odds, it's. . . consistently gripping.”―Kirkus Reviews

“A story of loss so affecting that it borders on existential vertigo.”―Sunyoung Park, associate professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures and Gender Studies, USC

City of Ash and Red is a tale of survival and ruin that leaves no room for even a single drop of comfort to seep in. Pyun builds an airtight masterpiece of agony and mystery with her masterfully crafted sentences, and she colors it with the ash-gray of ruin and the fiery red of life.”—Korea Economic Daily

“A story of modern humanity’s survival and downfall as told through the tale of a man who finds his life ruined for reasons he doesn’t understand, in a city rife with disease, soiled by trash, and teeming with rats. . . . [with narrative] tension like a discordant note that jangles the nerves to keep the reader hooked all the way to the last page.”—Munhwa Ilbo

“Hye-young Pyun has made a name for herself in literature with her exquisite depictions of a world of strange and grotesque imagination. . . . In City of Ash and Red, the central motifs are contagion and rats. . . . Though the world she describes is a fictional one, the story of the extinction and denial of a weak man who must persevere within that world feels all too real. Perhaps this unpleasant sense of reality comes from the realization that our own world is stranger than the monstrous one that Pyun invents, that we ourselves are no stronger than rats. But what can we do? Just as the powerless protagonist must somehow survive in the unknown space of Country C, we too have no choice but to persevere no matter what life throws at us.”—Kukmin Ilbo