Monday, September 14, 2020

Horror Adjacent: Reads in Translation

I’m baaaaack to preach about the joys of horror adjacent reads again!! If you’re sitting there all, “what is she going on about with this made-up terminology?” you can check out this post that explains a bit more of what horror adjacent means (to me, at least. What does it mean to you?).

Another facet of any type of fiction that I love to explore is translated books. It is especially intriguing in the horror genre because you get to see what other cultures are afraid of. I’ve long felt that one of the best ways to learn about a culture is through its fiction, but if you know what scares people, you truly see them to their bones.

The Embalmer by Anne-Renée Caillé (trans. from French by Rhonda Mullins)

From one of my favorite small presses, Coach House Books, comes this little gem of a novella, a haunting and introspective, almost poetic story looking behind the curtain of what it means to be an embalmer. It romanticizes nothing (while somehow being beautiful to read), drawing back the curtain on the mess that death can make and how we, the living, disguise it in an attempt to forget that death is coming for us too.

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Bluebeard’s First Wife: Stories by Ha Seong-nan (trans. from Korean by Janet Hong)

Ha Seong-nan’s writing can’t really be put in a box, I definitely consider it horror—my favorite kind of horror that sits quietly on the edge of your bed as you sleep, suffusing your dreams with dark imagery. There aren’t any jump scares or supernatural happenings—it is just a dark world outside, and sometimes it stains you. The stories end up being about much more than the plot, offering commentary on women’s roles and society’s expectations of them. Also check out Flowers of Mold, another excellent story collection of hers published by Open Letter Books.

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The Hole by Hye-Young Pyun (trans. from Korean by Sora Kim-Russell)

This is a strange tale about control, most specifically not being able to control your own body, being at the mercy of anyone around you. It is intensely psychological, detailing the internal struggle of a man who is paralyzed and at the mercy of his less-than-kindly mother-in-law. Another of her novels, The City of Ash and Red, is more of a Kafka meets 1984 meets the apocalypse nightmare, and also worth checking out.

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The Vegetarian by Han Kang (trans. from Korean by Deborah Smith)

Is that horror? Yep, it definitely is. I love when I can point out a popular book that everyone loved as being a horror story. This is definitely one of those books. It is incredible literary fiction, but at its core, it is a terrifying horror tale about the pressures and constraints on the female form and what might happen when a woman decides to take absolute control of her body. Chilling and strange.

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Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin (trans. from Spanish by Megan McDowell)

Oh, to be in the mind of Samanta Schweblin! What a place. Beautiful and horrible, breathtaking and fear-inducing. She truly does dance to the beat of her own drum,The master of small details, she has a way of twisting everyday occurrences and situations and blending such fresh and vivid descriptions in her writing that I found myself reading every story twice and still wishing for more. For more Schweblin, you can’t miss her novella Fever Dream (the ultimate WTF in the best way possible) and her newest, Little Eyes, which offers up a strange new technology and puts a magnifying glass on how and why we allow strangers access to our whole lives via the internet.

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Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez (trans. from Spanish by Megan McDowell)

These stories are dark and speculative tales of haunted houses, black magic, and creepy kids, but also of socio-political unrest, injustice, and domestic issues. They offer the perfect mix of realism and speculative fiction. Though I honestly don’t know that much about Argentina, I felt immersed in it through these stories.

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