Vacations are often depicted as escapes in which one leaves the stresses of home and travels to a blissful paradise, unburdened by worry. Yet, as the best literature about tourism makes clear, there’s a cost to believing that any destination could be uncomplicated.
Sarah Stodola’s The Last Resort, which traces the ocean-side hotel over time, easily exposes the dark side of this fantasy. In a history that starts with the murder of a Roman emperor’s mother and extends to the modern-day erosion of Hawaii’s beaches, she shows the clear human and ecological damage these complexes wreak. Barry Lopez’s hybrid travelogue-memoir Horizon demonstrates how these concerns extend to virtually all trips. Though his descriptions of far-off places are breathtaking, his writing is shot through with climate-induced existential dread and an acute awareness of the locals whose needs too often come second to the demands of tourists.
This dark outlook infuses fictional works, too. Take the introductory montage of HBO’s The White Lotus. In it, the camera zooms in on the tacky wallpaper of the show’s titular resort, showing rows of illustrated tropical plants and animals, which then slowly start to bleed. Yun Ko-Eun’s satire The Disaster Tourist, which centers on a company that guides its customers through places struck by catastrophe, is even more literal in its violence. To entice more visitors to a less successful destination, several people associated with the company work together to manufacture a disaster, matter-of-factly accepting that, in the process, locals will die.
In Here Comes the Sun, Nicole Dennis-Benn takes a realist approach, directing her focus to the lives of the Jamaican hospitality workers whose labor obscures the island’s poverty from its visitors. Her deep care and attention underscores the dull, psychic toll of constantly being exoticized.
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María Jesús Contreras
“For catastrophists like me, the luxury beach resort raises a whole new set of psychological torments on top of those provided by more ordinary beaches. The entire time that we’re in our ostensible paradise, I’m busy obsessing over the unintended consequences of our stay, such as the environmental degradation caused by bringing wasteful tourists to delicate ecosystems and the racist and classist issues of displacement.”
Pablo Cozzaglio / AFP / Getty
“[Barry] Lopez is gripped by an urgency to tell ‘a coherent and meaningful story’ about the threat of humanity’s extinction as a result of climate change and societal declension, and the ways he believes it can be prevented.”
Mario Perez / HBO
“The guests of the White Lotus assume that the world revolves around them. The resort’s decor, gaudy and grim, proves them right.”
Peter Marlow / Magnum
“Yun [Ko-Eun’s] late-capitalist satire makes the case 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
“Women—especially mothers—make cruel choices in Nicole Dennis-Benn’s novels.”