For those interested in emerging talent, the arrival of David Yun has been a blast. His 2019 debut titled “Frankly in Love” is listed among the best youth novels of all time. His first adult novel “Version Zero” was one of the most anticipated crime novels of 2021. His second novel, “City of Orange” is a survival story in post-apocalyptic California.
Like all of his works to date, “City of Orange” is a very intimate character portrait with the protagonist reflecting on the author’s life: a California native, a Korean American, a very rational and imaginative spirit grounded in his family and friends. In his previous work, Yoon has touched upon his father’s death from cancer, his adolescence in Southern California and his experience as a tech worker in Silicon Valley – finding humor, emotion and pain in his past. “City of Orange” breaks that pattern and dives right into the heart of Yoon’s worst fears about the future – literally the end of everything he loves the most.
The resulting novel is a powerful meditation on destruction, loss, and healing. The hero awakens smashed into a devastated world, rising from the sand in search of the necessities of life: water, food, shelter and tools. His path to survival is littered with zigzag shards of memory that run as he stumbles across a random part of a lost world. Sometimes he eagerly seizes these memories, but other times he cringes in pain and fear. Even as he suffered from TBI, he was driven to answer two all-consuming questions: How did the world end? Is it possible for his wife and child to survive somewhere?
For a novel about the end of the world, there is a surprisingly large cast of sympathetic characters. In the past, there were rich memories of a best friend, wife, and baby daughter. Nowadays, our hero’s companions are the inhabitants of the wasteland: crows and corpses, maniacs with aphasia and abandoned children – all symbolic fragments of his shattered consciousness, past and present, from a secluded childhood to a secluded grave.
Above all, “Orange Town” is a beautiful novel about Southern California. The prose is fast and luminous, the dialogue is perfect for notes, and flashback descriptions of modern Los Angeles are beautifully written. Important sights conjure Playa del Rey’s Dockweiler Beach and the nearby El Segundo Blue Butterfly Reserve – and of course the star of the novel is a flood-control watercourse, structures that have become a symbol of Southern California in countless films and TV shows since 1938.
In the end, very few post-apocalyptic novels have the literary qualities of this one. “City of Orange” belongs to a very narrow category, along with “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John, “I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson, and “The Way” by Cormac McCarthy. Like all of the best authors in the genre, David Yun is willing to question what “end of the world” really means — and provide the reader with a thoughtful and honest answer.
Written by David Young
(J.P. Putnam Sons; 352 pages; $27)
Green Apple Books on the Park offers David Yun in conversation with Tom Lane: Personal and virtual. 7 pm. 1 June. Free. Masks and proof of vaccination required in person; Registration is required for virtualization. 1231 Ninth Ave., SF www.greenapplebooks.com