Foreign Terror-tories: 8 Translated Tales to Terrify
Last year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded the Best Picture Oscar Award to Parasite, the first non-English language film to win that award. Parasite is a Korean thriller/black comedy that teeters on the brink of gothic horror. Just an aside, it's also the last movie my husband and I watched in a movie theater since the COVID-19 global pandemic. I absolutely loved it. I thought the movie was smart, compelling, and suspenseful. The climax blew my mind!
With Parasite winning this prestigious American film award, I believe we have set a new precedent for other non-English speaking movies and books to climb our previously exclusive charts. As an American with a healthy passion for horror fiction, I'd love to broaden my horizons and include translated horror on all of my future 'Best Of' lists. I know I am not alone in this desire so I have compiled a list of recommendations based on books I have enjoyed over the years and books that are currently sitting on my shelves, all of which have been translated into English so that you and I can enjoy stories of horror from all over the world.
1. "The Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories Vol. 1" edited by James D. Jenkins and Ryan Cagle
This book is a huge gift to American readers who love horror. James D. Jenkins and Ryan Cagle searched the globe for weird, dark, terrifying tales written in foreign countries, inaccessible to the English-speaking world, and put them all in one volume. The most exciting thing about this book is that there is an indication we're getting more volumes. There were several standout stories in this collection for me.
2. "Let the Right One In" by John Ajvide Lindqvist
How can I make a list about translated horror fiction without including one of the most quintessential vampire novels? This book is a one-and-done for me. I could never read it again. It's impossibly dark and bleak. The story of a 12-year-old boy who befriends an unusual child. Translated into English from Swedish by Ebba Segerberg, the tale covers a plethora of heavy themes that are difficult to endure, but the payoff is immense.
3. "Tender is the Flesh" by Agustina María Bazterrica
Born in Buenos Aires, Agustina María Bazterrica is known for her ferocious, unrestrained writing style. Her book, Tender is the Flesh, has a starling blurb, "If everyone was eating human meat, would you?" Translated into English by Sarah Moses and released early 2020, this is probably one of the most talked about books of the year. I'm eager to read it to see if it lives up to the big hype.
4. "The Dangers of Smoking in Bed" by Mariana Enriquez
From the author of Things We Lost in the Fire comes a collection of short stories being compared to, "literary sorcery in the tradition of Shirley Jackson and Jorge Luis Borges." Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to a description of the stories contained in this collection. I was absolutely sold on buying myself a hardcover edition. I have high expectations for this book. Mariana Enriquez is an Argentinian journalist and storyteller with a unique style of blending social commentary with magical realism and subtle horror. This book is translated by Megan McDowell.
5. "HEX" by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Translated from Dutch to English by Nancy Forest-Flier, HEX is the unusual story of Black Spring, a quaint village haunted by a witch. She is such a mainstay in the lives of the townspeople, they basically ignore her presence. The only problematic aspect of her haunting is that the whole village is locked away from society, so some disgruntled teens decide to provoke the witch to see if they can break her curse. This book is so strange. There are parts that are comical they're so bizarre, but then other scenes are downright terrifying. If you enjoy witch tales, this is a must!
6. "A Small Charred Face" by Kazuki Sakuraba
Kazuki Sakuraba's imagination and storytelling style is what breathes new life into vampire lore. Translated from Japanese to English, this book was brought to my attention by Nick Mamatas. I've never read anything like it. A coming-of-age story about a boy named Kyo who is near death but rescued by The Bamboo—a species of vampire that live in the "long grasses." This story is both tragic and beautiful but also pretty strange. It's not for everyone, but fans of anything vampire-related and character-driven will love this out-of-the-box, bittersweet horror.
7. "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" by Patrick Suskind
Perfume is one of my all-time favorite, top-shelf, best of the best books. Translated from German by John E. Woods, this is the outlandish story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, who is born with an extraordinary sense of smell. The first part of the book is his unusual journey from orphan to adulthood. Later, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille becomes obsessed with the scent of virgins and makes it his life's mission to bottle it up and sell it. The ending is shocking and this story will linger in your mind for days and days on end. PS. Skip the movie adaptation—it's nothing like the book.
8. "The Laws of the Skies" by Courtois Grégoire
Let me just grab the blurb for you, "Winnie-the-Pooh meets The Blair Witch Project in this very grown-up tale of a camping trip gone horribly awry."
I mean, what? But what grabbed me is the "camping trip gone horribly awry." I'm always available for a hellish camping trip because camping is a nightmare anyways, and adding elements of horror to level it up is my idea of a good time. This book was also recommended to me a few times last year by readers I trust, so I bought it and it sits patiently on my shelf of books to read. I like its slim size. Translated from French by Mullins Rhonda.
This should be enough to get you started. What are some of your favorite translated horror novels?
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